Backed into must-win Game 4, here are three things Rockets must do to even series

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Three years ago, the Houston Rockets came back from 3-1 down in a playoff series to defeat a Los Angeles Clippers (and give that franchise a punch to the gut from which it has not recovered). It was one of the great Rockets’ moments of the last decade.

Houston is not going to be able to do that against these Golden State Warriors. Go down 3-1 after Game 4 Tuesday at Oracle and the series is all but over.

Which means after the Rockets’ blowout loss in Game 3 Sunday night, Houston finds itself in the same must-win spot it did after Game 1. And unlike Game 2, the Rockets will not get helped out by an arrogant Warriors team not playing at its peak — the Rockets are going to need a near perfect game to beat a full-force Warriors team on Tuesday.

Here are the three key areas the Rockets must improve to win Game 4:

1) Just shoot better — finish shots at the rim and hit some threes. It’s rather obvious and simplistic, but it’s the reality: Houston just has to shoot better in Game 4.

The Rockets took a full one-third of their shots at the rim in the restricted area in Game 3, but they struggled with those making just 13-of-27 (48.1 percent). The Rockets took 42 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 11-of-34, and they were 7-of-25 on above the break threes. That’s not good enough, the Rockets are going to need at least 15 made threes in a game to win.

“Those are double whammies,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said of the missed shots at the rim. “It’s like we missed layups first half especially and they go down and score. So in transition, you’ve got to keep them out of transition, you’ve got to make layups. We didn’t do that. When they did miss, we didn’t box out all the time, and then we turned it over 20 times. It’s a formula for losing, and for us to correct that, we can’t turn it over. Got to make layups for shots, and get back.”

To be fair, the Warriors contested shooters well all game, especially guys driving the basket, but still, the Rockets need to knock down more of their shots contested or not. It’s the most basic premise of basketball.

2) Houston has to play faster. D’Antoni said it above, the Rockets and their missed shots let the Warriors get out in transition and control the pace. It’s also a simple fact that the team that controls the pace — the team that gets transition opportunities and gets into its offense earlier in the shot clock — will win the games.

Golden State had 26 transition opportunities to 12 for the Rockets, according to the Synergy Sports stats breakdown.

Or, look at it this way (via Cleaning the Glass), in Game 3, Houston started just10.4 percent of their possessions in transition (and scored a dreadful 0.89 points per possession on those plays). For comparison, in their Game 2 win, the Rockets started 18.7 percent of their possessions in transition. On Sunday night in Game 3 Warriors started 19.8 percent of their plays in transition, nearly one in five trips down the court, and they scored 1.44 points per possession on those plays.

The Rockets need to make more shots and then, even when they miss, get back in transition and not let the Warriors get rolling early in the clock. Houston also needs to defend better and force more Warriors misses, which will allow them to run. It’s all tied together, the Warriors were making shots so the Rockets were taking the ball out of the basket and coming up against set defenses; the Rockets were missing shots that let the Warriors come up fast and forcing the Rockets to scramble on defense (Golden State tears apart teams in those situations). It’s a holistic thing, but the evidence it’s working is which team controls the pace, and the Rockets need to do that in Game 4.

3) Houston needs more out of Chris Paul. It’s easy to point to the Stephen Curry eruption in the third quarter as the time the Warriors ended the game, and there is truth to that. Golden State started the third on a 10-0 run (where Curry had five of those points) and the fire was lit, then Curry started hitting 30-foot threes and quickly the game was out of reach. Those Warriors runs are crushers.

However, to me the turning point in the game was when James Harden went to the bench for his usual rest with 2:46 left in the first quarter — the Warriors outscored the Rockets by nine before the quarter was up (part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter). By the time Harden returned with 9:16 left in the second quarter, the Rockets were down 10, a hole they never could get out of (they were down 11 at the half).

CP3 has to be better in that stretch. The Warriors threw bigger, switchable guards at him on defense — Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, and then Andre Iguodala — and Paul couldn’t get separation and make plays against them. Without Harden, the Rockets offense stalled out, and doing that led to the Warriors getting to push the pace and get their transition buckets. Paul looked slowed at points, reaching on defense and not as explosive as we’ve seen.

This isn’t the Utah Jazz. Harden was off in Game 5 against Utah, but Paul picked up the slack (his 41-point, 10 assist game) and Houston got the win. Against Golden State, both Paul and Harden must have good games for Houston to have a chance. The Warriors are too good, too deep, there is no margin for error anymore.

The Rockets have an elite game in them — we saw the blueprint of what they have to do in Game 2. Houston can do that again. The only question is can they do it in the face of Golden State’s pressure, because the sharks on the Warriors smell blood in the water and will be coming hard in Game 4.

Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram all ejected for punches-thrown fight

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LOS ANGELES — It’s the second game of the season and players reaction like it was May. Or June.

Emotions were running high between the Lakers and Rockets all night. Los Angeles’ Brandon Ingram was particularly frustrated with James Harden drawing foul calls (welcome to a big club, Brandon) and after Harden drew another with 4:13 left in the game Ingram let his frustration go and pushed Harden. That was a quick technical, there was jawing, and Lance Stephenson stepped in to pull Ingram out and protect him from himself (yes, Stephenson was the level head… it was weird to type that).

Usually in an NBA “fight” that’s when things calm down.

Instead, that’s when things went crazy.

Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, two guys who don’t like each other much, were jawing after the play when CP3 took his finger and pushed Rondo in the face — and Rondo responded by throwing a punch. Paul said later Rondo spit on him (you can’t see that in the initial video).

At that point, everyone was in.

That’s when Ingram came sprinting back into the scene and threw another punch. He was quickly pulled out of the pile, but the damage was done.

Once everything settled down, the ejections came — Ingram, Rondo, and Paul were all gone. Each of them can also expect a suspension to come down, Rondo and Ingram will certainly get multiple games for throwing punches.

The Rockets went on to win the game, 124-115.

C.J. McCollum breaks Bryn Forbes ankles, drains three, Blazers bench LOVES it

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Bryn Forbes was going to be the third-string point guard for the Spurs, but injuries to Dejounte Murray and Derrick White thrust him into the starting lineup.

Saturday night, C.J. McCollum schooled him. Broke Forbes ankles then drained the three over the top of him.

But the best part of this is the bench reaction.

Damn, that’s cold.

McCollum had 24 and Damian Lillard had 29, and the Blazers beat the Spurs 121-108.

Watch J.J. Redick’s game-winning three, it lifts 76ers past Magic 116-115

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — JJ Redick hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to lift the Philadelphia 76ers over the Orlando Magic 116-115 on Saturday night. You can see the video above.

Redick had his best game since moving to Philadelphia’s bench at the start of the season, scoring 31 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including eight 3-pointers.

Aaron Gordon had a chance to tie it with 10 seconds remaining but missed his second free throw, and a desperation heave by Terrance Ross missed the net entirely.

Joel Embiid had 32 points and 10 rebounds for the 76ers, including 19 points by halftime. He did it with an outside game in the first half but was more of a force down low after intermission.

Dario Saric scored 13 points and Robert Covington had 12 as the 76ers improved to 2-1 this season.

Evan Fournier had 31 points to lead Orlando. Nikola Vucevic added 27 points and Gordon had 20.

Ben Simmons left the game after the first quarter with a tight back, meaning Philadelphia had to lean that much more on Embiid and Redick.

With Simmons out, Markelle Fultz was given an opportunity to play extended minutes and run the offense. Fultz finished with eight points on 4-of-11 shooting and added seven assists with only one turnover.

However, with the game on the line, 76ers coach Brett Brown opted to use T.J. McConnell at the point and kept Fultz on the bench.

High scores have been common in the early part of the NBA season as teams are pushing the pace and trying more shots, especially from deep.

Both teams shot lights out from 3-point territory. The Sixers, paced by Redick, shot 17 of 34 (50 percent) while the Magic, led by Fournier’s six 3-pointers, shot 16 of 29 (55.2 percent).

Thirteen players attempted shots from beyond the arc, eight for Orlando and five for Philadelphia.

 

Young guys out: Sixers’ Ben Simmons, Knicks’ Kevin Knox leave games with (hopefully) minor injuries

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When the team’s young star goes down, or heads back to the locker room mid-game with a hitch in his step, an entire fan base holds their breath.

That happened tonight in Philadelphia with Ben Simmons and New York with Kevin Knox, but fortunately neither seems to be serious.

Simmons had hit a couple of layups but ran back up the court gingerly, like he was in pain, before asking out of the game at the 4:19 mark of the first quarter. He is not returning.

Simmons has been tearing it up for Philadelphia, averaging 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game through the Sixers first two. Philadelphia is off until Tuesday when they start a back-to-back in Detroit then head to Milwaukee.

New York’s Knox went down after Boston’s Terry Rozier tried to cut Knox off in transition and fouled him.

The Knicks announced it was a sprained ankle.

Knox drags that ankle behind him in an awkward way after the collision, let’s hope it’s nothing more than a mild sprain.

Both a tight back and a sprained ankle are things that can be worse the next day, keep your eyes out for updates on these guys.