Rockets show it’s better to have James Harden than to not have Stephen Curry


The Warriors’ uncharacteristically awful defense hurt them.

They should feel fortunate it didn’t prove catastrophic.

Stephen Curry jogged up court as Trevor Ariza streaked by him – yet another Golden State defensive lapse in a game with many already – and watched Ariza catch a pass near the basket behind the defense. Trying to recover, Curry jumped on Ariza and fell – hard. Curry left the game with what Golden State called a head contusion, and he somehow returned in the second half.

That was the good news for the Warriors.

The bad news: practically everything else.

The Rockets scored 45 first-quarter points – the most by any team in a playoff quarter since 2001 and most in a playoff first quarter since 1986 – en route to a 128-115 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Monday.

The Warriors, barring a damaging late diagnosis, should have Curry at full strength when they try to close the series in Game 5 Wednesday in Oakland. Houston, which overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Clippers last round, is trying to become the first team to win a series after trailing 3-0.

James Harden (45 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks) gave the Rockets extended life in this series, shaking off a rough Game 3. His brilliance coupled with Houston’s good fortune resulted in a resounding win.

When Harden makes this shot (which didn’t count)…

And Josh Smith’s shot chart looks like this…

josh smith

And Dwight Howard doesn’t get ejected for this

…it’s your night.

We’ll see how long the Rockets’ momentum lasts. If Howard’s flagrant 1 gets upgraded to a flagrant 2, he could face suspension.

That’d be a major loss against the dangerous Warriors, who need just one more win to advance to the Finals.

Even after they fell behind by 25, Klay Thompson (24 points) and Draymond Green (21 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and five blocks) led them within six in the fourth quarter. Curry (23 points and four assists) wasn’t bad, all things considered.

But Houston was too good against a Golden State team ill-prepared to begin the game and playing without its best player for a long stretch.

Credit the Rockets for tonight. They came to play in a situation where many teams fold.

Will everything align for them three more times in a row, though?

Dwight Howard elbows Andrew Bogut in the face, assessed Flagrant 1 (VIDEO)


Dwight Howard was given a Flagrant 1 foul for this elbow to the face of Andrew Bogut during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals:

It was a bizarre decision not to eject Howard, since it was contact above the shoulder. A Flagrant 2 seemed to be the clear-cut call.

Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston


The questions remaining in the Western Conference Finals aren’t about what Golden State can do — we’ve seen that. They are the better team. There’s no doubt they can close out the series.

The questions are all for Houston. They have fought hard and lost two games, then been dominated in another. The Rockets are down 3-0 but at home for Game 4 Monday night with one more chance to show their resolve and answer some of the myriad of questions the Warriors pose for them.

With that, we’ll focus on Houston heading into Game 4: Here are three things to watch from the Rockets.

1) How much fight does Houston have left? After Game 4 against the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, I was in the Rockets’ locker room and thought they looked defeated. Houston was down 3-1, and after a couple tough losses they looked like players in other playoff locker rooms I’ve seen, ones where the team came out the next game and rolled over to accept their fate. But that’s not these Rockets. Houston has been the most resilient team in the NBA this season. Injuries forced changing lineups all season and would have devastated a lot of teams, yet the Rockets kept on winning — 56 games, all the way to the two seed in the West. Against the Clippers, they battled back to take the series. The question here isn’t can Houston battle back to take this series from the Golden State — it can’t — but will it come out with that fight and spirit and take Game 4? I expect they will show that resolve.

2) Expect an aggressive, attacking James Harden — but will Dwight Howard join him? In Game 3 the Warriors switched up their defense on Harden. Instead of a steady diet of Klay Thompson, the primary defender became Harrison Barnes, with his length, and the physicality of Andre Iguodala mixed in with Thompson for stretches. It threw Harden off, he shot just 3-of-16 on his way to 17 points. Harden has not gotten to the line at his regular clip this series. He was fantastic in the first two games of the series but he did it mostly by hitting challenging shots — like step-back jumpers — in the midrange. That was not a formula for long-term success. With their season on the line in front of his home fans, expect Harden to be cooking — expect him to be aggressive, attack, make plays and draw fouls. He will not go quietly into that good night. Another question tied to this: Will Harden and Dwight Howard finally start to play well off each other. As Tom Haberstroh brilliantly pointed out at ESPN, The Rockets’ two best players still play next to each other not with each other. They have the potential to be a devastating force together, but will they finally start to take some advantage of that?

3) Will the Rockets finally defend Stephen Curry well? Through three games in this series, 34 of Stephen Curry’s 62 shots have been uncontested. That’s 54.8 percent of his looks (including 10 of 19 in Game 3). We’re talking about the best shooter in the game, the one guy on the Warriors you can’t lose track of, the guy you have to help on, and more than half of his shots are not contested (according to the NBA’s Sports VU camera data). While we can quibble with the numbers, the fact is Jason Terry and other Rockets defenders lose Curry off the ball far too often. The Rockets have struggled with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and when a big is switched onto him Curry feasts. When he beats the first line of defense — which he will do, he’s good — too often the help isn’t reading the play correctly. Curry is also a gifted passer, and even when the Rockets play him correctly one of the many shooters on the Warriors roster gets a little space and the ball seems to find him. That said, you still have to start slowing Golden State by slowing Curry. He’s is not going to be stopped, but a team can make his job difficult — Mike Conley did it for the Grizzlies, spending the series in Curry’s jersey. If the Rockets want to get some stops, it has to start with slowing Curry down. Maybe that means slowing the pace down a little, but the problem is that doesn’t play to the Rockets’ strengths.

Dwight Howard on Rockets’ Game 3 effort: “I saw quit from everybody in the arena”


On Saturday night, the Rockets were embarrassed on their home court, losing 115-80 to the Warriors and falling to a 3-0 deficit, on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals. Houston will be going home for the summer with one more loss, and at practice on Sunday, Dwight Howard called out the team’s effort.

Howard isn’t wrong. There’s no other way to describe the Rockets’ performance in Game 3. Howard is also the only player on the team with any room to make such a criticism: for however much flack he takes from the fans, media and general public, Howard has been tremendous in this series, especially in Game 2, when he put up 19 points and 17 rebounds on a bad knee. He’s been bringing the effort. Everyone else, not so much.

On Monday, we’ll see how Houston responds with their backs against the wall. They looked all but dead in the second round, trailing the Clippers 3-1 after four games. But they mounted a comeback and ultimately won the series in seven games. So theoretically, there’s a chance they’ll escape the jaws of defeat once again. On the other hand, no team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs, and the Warriors are a historically great team at both ends of the floor. So it’s highly unlikely.

Phil Jackson says he likes three pointers, but relationship appears complicated


Remember is the second round when Knicks president Phil Jackson tweeted this:

Well, all four of the teams left in the playoffs were in the top five in the NBA in three pointers made this season. It looks like the Finals will be the three-loving Warriors against a Cavaliers team that has leaned on the three more come the playoffs. That’s not even talking about the Spurs who won the title last season, or the Heat the couple before that (or the jump-shooting Mavs before that). So things are “goink” pretty well, thanks.

Sunday, Jackson decided to clarify his position.

Phil Jackson has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know, and certainly when you think about his teams one thing that comes to mind is Robert Horry or Derek Fisher hitting threes with the Lakers, or Steve Kerr and John Paxson with the Bulls.

That said, how he’s trying to position himself in these tweets isn’t exactly revolutionary — play the game from the inside out. A team can’t just shoot threes, they have to have balance and be able to score inside and in a variety of ways. Notice all four of those teams left can score inside as well — LeBron James for Cleveland on the drive-and-kick, Dwight Howard in the post or James Harden on the drive in Houston, and Golden State does it on drives and cuts and the occasional post up (they had 58 points in the paint Saturday).

The question is prioritization of the three pointer.

None of those teams would pass up a dunk or uncontested lay-up for a three — it’s a matter of efficiency. But what about a contested eight-footer? An open free throw line jumper? Do you prioritize a lower-percentage (in terms of points per possession) midrange shot over an open three? It’s about value, and the league has moved to valuing the three more.

And that’s the smart thing to do.