The Rockets defeated the Warriors 126-121 in overtime on Saturday night to cut Golden State’s series lead to 2-1 as James Harden scored 41 points and delivered a couple of daggers to the defending champions.
As thrilling and huge as the Rockets’ Game 3 win was, Game 4 on Monday night is as much of a must-win game for Houston.
With the Warriors being only two wins away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the fifth-straight year, the Rockets do not want to go back to Oakland down 3-1.
James Harden was sensational for the Rockets in overtime as he hit two daggers against the Warriors to seal the win. One was his signature step-back three over Andre Iguodala that put the Rockets up six, and the second was a floater over Draymond Green that put Houston up five and ended up being the final basket of the game.
For the Rockets, this entire season was supposed to be a redemption following last year’s loss to these very same Warriors in the Conference Finals after being up 3-2, but especially for James Harden, who after Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017 Western Conference Semi-Finals, has been criticized significantly for the Rockets shortcomings in the postseason.
In the 2019 playoffs, James Harden is averaging a career-best 30.5 points per game and 6.8 rebounds, which is a more important stat than usual because of Houston’s season-long struggles as a team to rebound the ball.
While critics will be quick to point out Harden’s low field-goal percentage for the entire postseason, in this series, Harden has matched Kevin Durant, who has been sensational, almost shot-for-shot.
In this series, Kevin Durant is averaging 36.7 points per game on 43.6% shooting from the floor while Harden is averaging 35 points per game on 40.5% shooting from the floor. Both of these titans’ numbers have been nearly identical.
These two teams have also been pretty even as all three games so far have been decided by six points or less.
Game 4 is now the most important game of the series. A Houston win and the series is tied 2-2; a loss and the series is all but over as Golden State will hold a 3-1 lead with Game 5 at home.
Though Harden came up big at the end of Game 3, there were multiple instances both in regulation and in overtime where Houston’s iso ball nearly cost them the game.
So far in the series, when Chris Paul has been in full control of the offense, Houston’s offensive efficiency has sky-rocketed as seen last night where the Rockets’ best lineup (minimum 4 minutes of game-time) was when James Harden was not on the floor and CP3 was. The offensive rating for Houston was 157.1 and their net rating was +142 with the Paul as the only point guard lineup.
Of course, the Rockets are not better with Harden off the floor, but the offense has been more fluid with Paul in command because he attacks earlier in the shot clock.
There are times where Houston spends too much time trying to knit-pick the perfect one-on-one matchup that it restricts them to a late shot clock and results in a rushed three.
When Houston attacks earlier it gives the Warriors problems as they have been terrible in transition (GSW had a net rating of -4.3 in fast-break situations).
In order to increase their chances of success, the Rockets must put an emphasis on attacking the Warriors earlier in the shot clock.
Again, Game 4 is a must-win game for Houston, and with Stephen Curry coming off one of his worst games ever, the Rockets will have to match his offense as Curry will likely be engaged early and often.
The Rockets need to get out in front early and make Golden State feel the pressure. If Houston falls behind they will fall into the tendency of trying to hit homer threes to catch-up, and against the Warriors that is not a recipe for success.