James Harden, Balanced Rockets Even Series vs. Kevin Durant, Warriors

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2018

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket past Golden State Warriors defenders Andre Iguodala (9), Stephen Curry (30), and Kevin Durant (35) during the first half in Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

There will be no sweep in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, as the Houston Rockets bounced back from a Game 1 loss with a 127-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Wednesday's Game 2 at the Toyota Center.

Golden State will now need to win a best-of-five series to reach the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season, as James Harden (27 points and 10 rebounds) was part of a balanced Houston attack that evened the series. Five Rockets scored at least 16 points, including Eric Gordon (27 points), Trevor Ariza (19 points and six assists) and PJ Tucker (22 points and seven rebounds).

Kevin Durant did what he could with 38 points, but Stephen Curry (16) was the only other Warrior to finish with more than eight.

               

Warriors' Biggest Opponent Is Still the Warriors

Houston deserves plenty of credit for its victory, but the Warriors that showed up Wednesday aren't going to show up four times over the course of the series.

It's easy to go through the motions when you are as talented as Golden State, and the 15 turnovers and 9-of-30 shooting clip from deep (30 percent) are testaments to the defending champions taking their foot off the pedal after stealing home-court advantage in Game 1. The visitors had seven turnovers in the first quarter alone, and they never settled into their typically overwhelming rhythm.

Following the first quarter, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr even said on the TNT broadcast, "As soon as we win a game, we like to turn the ball over more."

Golden State has stood in its own way in the past, as it committed 17 turnovers in Game 5 and 14 turnovers in Game 6 of its 2016 NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for seven of the Warriors' 10 turnovers in Game 7 of that series.

While the Rockets don't have LeBron James, the Warriors are playing with fire against a team featuring Harden and Chris Paul if they continue to be this sloppy with the ball.

However, this iteration of Golden State has something the team that lost to Cleveland didn't—Durant. The Warriors have three sweeps and three five-game wins in six playoff series since Durant joined them, and their lackluster play Wednesday may have only delayed the inevitable in this series.

A Warriors team with four All-Stars that already stole home-court advantage from the Rockets is still in control of this series. As long as it doesn't stand in its own way three more times, that is.

            

Rockets Prove They're Title Contenders After All

In December, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN's Ryen Russillo, "It's the only thing we think about. I think I'm not supposed to say that, but we're basically obsessed with 'How do we beat the Warriors?'"

They showed how Wednesday by being more than the Harden show.

Gordon and Tucker drilled a combined 11 three-pointers. Sharp defensive rotations prevented the Warriors' litany of shooters from finding their stroke. Ariza consistently cut to the basket. Clint Capela controlled the paint with 10 rebounds.

Houston can't win if the role players go missing like they did in Game 1, when Tucker had one point and Ariza had eight. In Game 2, Golden State trimmed the deficit to 11 in the fourth quarter and had the crowd on edge, but Gordon buried a deep, contested three at the end of the shot clock.

The home team never looked back.

Paul (16 points and six assists) got involved as well by pushing the pace and preventing Golden State's defense from establishing position. He was the primary facilitator when Houston unleashed dizzying ball movement and created wide-open looks and runways to the basket for the others.

He even dropped Curry again:

Golden State is the team to beat, but a Houston squad clicking on all cylinders is a contender if the role players provide enough support for the two All-Star guards.

           

Hamptons 5 May Have Met Its Match

The "Hamptons Five" lineup of Durant, Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala is what Golden State typically relies on to take over.

That wasn't the case Wednesday, which even Green's mother couldn't believe:

A Rockets defense that was sixth in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, per NBA.com, kept everyone but Durant in check. Curry finished an ugly 1-of-8 from three and appeared to lack lift on his jumpers.

The Hamptons Five lineup isn't often outplayed, but the Rockets put the NBA on alert, at least for one game.

             

What's Next?

The series now shifts back to Oracle Arena for Sunday's Game 3. Despite the lackluster performance Wednesday, the Warriors can still take a commanding 3-1 series lead over Houston if they defend their home court for the next two games.

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