This past summer (and during the season), Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s front office made some money-saving moves that kept the team from paying the luxury tax. The most prominent of those was not bringing back Trevor Ariza and replacing him with James Ennis (who didn’t fit for Houston but has blossomed these playoffs in Philly), plus taking a flier on Carmelo Anthony. Fertitta himself said the team needed to be careful with the league’s luxury tax, which he called a horrible hindrance. The moves worked, the Rockets shed payroll and will not be taxpayers this year.
“I’m upset right now. They kicked our ass on our home court. They beat us by 10 points in the fourth quarter. It’s unacceptable, OK? We just have to be better. I know that we’re going to rise to the occasion and our time is going to come. You know James [Harden] is 30 years old [Note: He will be in August]. Michael [Jordan] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [Note: Actually, 28]. Hakeem [Olajuwon] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [actually 31]. I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here. We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”
“I’m a fighter,” said Fertitta, who has owned the franchise for two seasons. “That’s my culture, and I think the longer that I own this team, they’re going to pick up more of my culture. We had [the Warriors]. We should have stepped on their throat the other night and cut their throat. It’s not, ‘Let’s make a few shots and win.’ It’s step on their throat and let’s take it back to Houston and end it in six. We’ll pick up a few Tilman-isms along the way in the next few years.”
That sounds good, it’s what Rockets fans wanted to hear, but actions will speak louder than words.
The Rockets don’t have much cap space to work with this summer, basically just the mid-level exception. The reason is Harden and Chris Paul are maxed out, while Clint Capela will make $16.4 million and Eric Gordon will make $14 million. Rockets GM Daryl Morey will need to get creative, and he is one of the best in the league at that. But can he spend into the tax?
There have been some Rockets fans calling for the team to move Chris Paul, who at age 34 seemed half a step slower this season. The problem is CP3 is owed about $124 million over the next three seasons (the last season a player option at $44 million you can bet now he will pick up), and not many teams would be willing to take on that salary. The Rockets might have to throw in a sweetener.
NBA says it’s inconclusive if Klay Thompson stepped out of bounds late in Game 5
Of course there was an officiating controversy, it’s Houston vs. Golden State. There has to be some.
Rockets fans (and players) claimed that with :11 seconds to go in the game, with the Rockets down three, Chris Paul and James Harden trapped Klay Thompson on the sideline, and as Thompson leaned back to find room to throw a pass he stepped out of bounds with the ball in his hands. You can see the play in the video above, and screenshots from it make it look like Thompson steps out of bounds with the ball in his hand. The call would have given the Rockets a chance to tie the game.
Paul (HOU) and Harden (HOU) trap Thompson (GSW) against the sideline and Thompson jumps backwards to find an opening for the pass. After reviewing the play from multiple angles and frame-by-frame, there is no conclusive angle that shows the ball touching Thompson’s (GSW) fingertips as he lands before releasing the ball on his pass attempt.
The league did say Eric Gordon should have been called for a loose ball foul in the scramble after Thompson’s errant pass because of how Gordon ran into Shaun Livingston.
The L2M report also said Thompson should have been called for a reach-in foul on Gordon with 1:26 left in the game (Gordon regained control of the ball after it was knocked away).
Two quick thoughts.
First, while the official was standing right next to Thompson as he tries to make that pass that referee is really not in a good position to make that call — there’s no way he can see the release of the ball and the foot at the same time from his vantage point. He was too close.
Second, this call is not why the Rockets lost. Houston gave up 32 points to a Golden State team without Kevin Durant in the fourth, that is why it lost. It’s never one play, one thing, or one call.
Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Hit the panic button in Boston
The NBA playoffs are deep into the second round, and with all that is on the line there can be a lot to unpack in these intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Go ahead and hit the “now what happens” panic button in Boston after ugly Game 4 loss. It was maybe the biggest question heading into this round two series: Had the Boston Celtics finally found themselves in their first-round sweep of the Pacers, or would the ugly habits of the regular season return when faced with a good Milwaukee Bucks team?
Monday night, with their season essentially on the line, Boston played inconsistent defense with missed rotation after missed rotation. The offense devolved into a series of isolation, hero ball plays. Then Kyrie Irving headed back to the locker room with 10 seconds left to play, leading to all kinds of easy-to-draw parallels to what could happen in July.
Turns out, bad habits die hard.
Behind another strong outing from Giannis Antetokounmpo with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting, and him getting help from the Bucks bench, Milwaukee has taken a commanding 3-1 lead in this series, heading home for Game 4.
This loss felt like someone threw a gas can into the “where will Irving play next season” fire. Boston fans can reach for the panic button now because a second-round exit is not helping Kyrie Irving want to stay.
The Celtics season isn’t over yet, but Knicks fans are already on Zillow hunting out places for Irving to live if he comes to Manhattan. That speculation is only going to grow, and his decision could impact Kevin Durant‘s decision, the Anthony Davis trade and more.
The decisive stretch of Game 4 Monday came in the final 6:20 of the third quarter, when Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton went to the Milwaukee bench with four fouls apiece, plus Boston was in the bonus. This is when the Celtics should have stomped on the gas pedal, run the Bucks off the court, and taken control of the game. Instead, the Bucks went on a 19-9 run, with George Hill leading the way (he had 9 of his 15 points in that stretch). When the quarter ended, the Bucks were in control.
That leads to the other big question heading into this series: Where the Bucks a regular-season phenomenon? They had the best record in the NBA, but would their style of play hold up when the game slowed down and defenses focused in to take away strengths during the postseason.
Turns out the Bucks are just fine in the playoffs.
Both of these teams are talented, but right now only one is playing like a team, only one has its star setting up teammates and getting them involved when the defense focuses on him. Milwaukee is getting big games from not only its stars but also Hill is getting key buckets, Pat Connaughton is playing quality minutes and throwing down big dunks, and Eric Bledsoe is a pest.
The Bucks are for real and about to head into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics are about to head into the summer where, whatever they look like on the other end of it, they will not be the same.
2) Now we have the series we expected, Houston beats Golden State to even series 2-2. For the past couple of seasons, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr has used his “Hamptons’ five” lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green — almost as a “break glass in case of emergency” lineup. He’d bring it in when the game was on the line and no team had an answer for it.
Until Houston this series. In a sign of how much respect he had for the Rockets, Kerr opened the series starting the Hamptons’ Five, leaning on them for heavy minutes. In Game 4 they played just shy of 22 minutes — and were -11. For the series, this lineup is just +5, it is not dominating or intimidating the Rockets.
Mike D’Antoni has gone small to counter that lineup at the end of games, leaning on a lineup of Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and P.J. Tucker at center. All 6’6″ of him.. D’Antoni tried to call it the “South Beach” five, which doesn’t at all fit them. But the lineup is a thing in this series.
James Harden is dominating. The beard shot 7-of-11 in the paint and 6-of-17 from three on his way to 38 points.
Houston won 112-108 and after an ugly start in the first two games has bounced back and turned this into the intense, emotional, knock-down drag-out series we expected. It is 2-2 after both teams held home court, with Game 5 Wednesday back in Golden State.
The Rockets are making Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson work hard on defense, and it seems to impact their offense — the Warriors were 8-of-33 from three in Game 4. That is why they lost. It was summed up in this final play, when Golden State had a chance to tie it.
Kevin Durant has been otherworldly and had 34 in this game, he just needs some help. In the Steve Kerr era, this Warriors team has always responded with a big defensive effort when their backs are against the wall. That’s where they are in Game 5, but can they really solve the Harden riddle? Because nobody else has this season.
3) Lakers apparently closing in on a deal to make Tyronn Lue their next head coach. With Monty Williams off the board and ensconced in Phoenix, Tyronn Lue became the clear and lone frontrunner to get the Lakers coaching job. The latest update is that the side are working toward a deal, one that brings Frank Vogel in as a lead assistant (which would be a good hire, Vogel is a strong defensive coach).
Once announced, it’s a highering that will get ripped in some quarters because it looks like LeBron James got his man. Which he did. LeBron trusts Lue. The perception is that Lue is LeBron’s patsy, but the reality is Lue is one of the few guys with a relationship that allows him to really challenge LeBron, to call him out. The Lakers will need that.
Lue is not the terrible coach some want to paint him as, but he’s also not an elite NBA coach. Lue got his team to defend and ran some creative stuff near the end of his run in Cleveland. Lue is not brilliant, he is somewhere near the middle of the bell curve of NBA coaches. Go ahead and say “that’s not good enough for the Lakers” but in reality who were they going to get that’s better?
Lue can do the job if he has enough talent on the roster. The question is can the Lakers land the talent they and Lue need? Rob Pelinka is going to have a wild summer.
Red-hot James Harden, ice cold Warriors shooting means Rockets even series 2-2
Nothing summed up Game 4 better than the final meaningful Warriors’ possession of the night.
With :11.1 seconds left in the game, Golden State inbounded the ball and thanks to a James Harden missed free throw was down three, 111-108. The play ended up with first Kevin Durant then, after an offensive rebound, Stephen Curry getting clean looks to tie the game. Both missed.
It’s a make or miss league and the Warriors were missing all night.
The Warriors shot 8-of-33 from three and that — combined with another unstoppable night from Harden where he had 38 points — led to a 112-108 Houston win.
This is the tight, intense series we thought we’d get going in, and it is now 2-2 with both teams having held serve on their home court. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Oakland.
For the past four years, when the Warriors have had a playoff loss they have almost always bounced back with an improved defensive effort. James Harden has blown that trend up, especially as the Rockets try to force switches to target Curry and wear him down (which has worked). Harden was 7-of-11 in the paint and 6-of-17 from three on his way to 38 points and nine assists in Game 4.
The Rockets played with urgency and played their game — pushing the pace when they could, shooting threes (56.2 percent of their shot attempts were from three), and pressuring on defense. It worked, in part because Harden got help. Eric Gordon had 20 points and continued his trend of outplaying Klay Thompson in this series (Thompson had 11 points on 15 shots). P.J. Tucker had 17 points hit three from beyond the arc, and did as well as anyone is going to on Kevin Durant defensively. Austin Rivers had 10 points. It all came together for Houston.
That despite another monster night from Kevin Durant who had 34 points on 12-of-22 shooting. Curry finished the night with 30 points and attacked the rim more, but was 4-of-14 from three.
After two wins at home, the Warriors thought they were in control of this series, but much like they did in the regular season the Rockets have bounced back from a slow start to put themselves very much in the mix. This is now the series we thought we would get — the Rockets have the formula to beat the Warriors and are catching the breaks they need.
This series between these two teams was tied 2-2 a year ago in the Conference Finals and the home team — that time Houston — won Game 5. Then the Warriors won the next two. Golden State has always been able to find another gear when it matters, but we have seen less of that this season. They need to find that gear Wednesday night, or they will be on the brink of elimination
Stephen Curry and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day
Stephen Curry was talking about his missed dunk, but it could have just as well been about his entire Saturday night. A guy we are used to seeing step up in the game’s big moments did just the opposite in Game 3.
It’s not just that Curry needed 23 shots to get 17 points in Game 3, nor is it just that he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. It’s not even that he shot 2-of-9 at the rim. It was the timing and dramatic nature of all of it — in a game the Warriors could have stolen on the road behind a 46-point night from Kevin Durant and a triple-double from Draymond Green, Curry was just off. Way off. For example, missing a dunk in a key moment late.
Those were just a couple off moments in a very off night for Curry.
“I’ll probably be thinking about it tonight, go to sleep, turn the page…” Curry said postgame. “[With the Warriors up 2-1] that’s what you want going into a series against a great team like that. So, I know I’ll be ready.”
Curry dislocated the middle finger of his left (non-shooting) hand in the first quarter of Game 2, but he did not want to blame his rough night on that. This is not just a one-game thing, Curry is 18-of-52 overall in this series, and just 8-for-32 (25 percent) from three.
Not that anybody is genuinely worried about Curry.
“He just had a tough night,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Everybody, no matter how good you are, you’re going to have some bad games. It was just a tough night for him. It didn’t happen.”
Curry is not the only reason the Warriors lost — give the James Harden and the Rockets credit, they were scrappy and made plays. Harden had 41 points, Eric Gordon 30, and they had a more balanced attack than Golden State on the night.
That said, the Warriors need Curry to show up this series. And, maybe just stick to layups.