For the fourth time these playoffs, the Houston Rockets stepped on the court knowing if they lost they could make tee times for golfing the next morning — their season would be over.
On just the Rockets’ second possession of the game, Josh Smith walked into a straight on three early in the clock — a shot the Warriors will gladly let him take.
Smith drained it.
He did it again a couple minutes later, capping a 12-0 run by the Rockets to start the game that set the tone for the night. The Rockets held off the Warriors charges in a wild game to survive and get to play in Game 5 Wednesday.
“He started it off for us, knocking down shots and being aggressive,” James Harden said of Smith. “That’s what we need, our four men — Josh and TJ (Terrence Jones) — to be aggressive. Be aggressive and attack the basket. He kind of got it going for us, and the other guys picked it up.”
Smith has done this all playoffs — when the Rockets are up against the wall, it’s Smith making plays. Elimination game Smith is a thing.
In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent). In those games, he’s hit 10-of-18 from three. Most impressive, in those games he’s 10-of-13 on contested looks — even when the defense comes out on him he’s knocking it down.
If your reaction to that is “he can’t sustain that level of play” you’d be right. Over the course of a season he will not sustain it — but in a playoff series he doesn’t have to. Just a quarter here (say, the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers) or a game there.
Smith just isn’t ready for his time with the Rockets to end. He came to Houston mid-season after Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons paid him just to go away. Smith was a free agent with options, but chose to come to the Rockets because of a relationship with Dwight Howard and the chance to win. When this season is over, Smith is a free agent who could land anywhere. But he’s not letting that time come to an end just yet.
It’s not just Smith; other guys step up in these games as well.
“Josh (Smith) got us off to a great start, James (Harden) had a phenomenal game… I thought Trev (Ariza) did a really good job for us early, hit some big shots”
James Harden is obviously the engine for the Rockets’ offense and in the four closeout games he has a combined 125 points (including 45 against the Rockets Monday). He has hit 34-of-60 shots in those close out games and has a dozen threes.
Beyond him, Dwight Howard has 70 points in those games and is shooting 53.9 percent on contested looks in those contests. Trevor Ariza has 74 points in the games and is 16-of-33 from three. Corey Brewer has knocked down some big shots, particularly in the Game 6 comeback against the Clippers.
The Rockets will need three more can’t miss games from Smith and friends to advance past the Warriors, and that is unlikely. It goes back to the idea that the Rockets can’t sustain that level of shooting, that their role players will regress to the mean. Probably during Game 5 in Oakland.
Maybe. But the Rockets don’t have to sustain the crazy level of shooting that long. Just enough to survive another day. If you don’t think that can happen, you haven’t watched this resilient Rockets team these playoffs.