9:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Rockets -2, Over/Under: 221.5
The most anticipated matchup of these NBA Playoffs rages on, as the Fourth-Seeded Houston Rockets host the Top-Seeded Golden State Warriors in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals from Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. After receiving more of a challenge from the Clippers than anyone could have imagined in the previous Round, the Warriors (57-25, 1st in Western Conference) now find themselves in a completely different place against an opponent that has been salivating for another shot at the reigning NBA Champions for nearly a year. At this point, there is nothing that be said about last year’s Western Conference Finals that has already been stated, and the less said about it the better (even if the Rockets can’t let it go). However, through three games this Series is appearing to be a worthy sequel to it’s predecessor, ripe with close calls, twists and turns, star performances, and of course, more than just a bit of protesting to the Officials. Games One and Two were both taken by Golden State, though each affair was close, particularly the former, which thanks to an MVP performance from Kevin Durant (26.0 PTS, 52.1% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 6.4 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.1 BLK, 24.2 PER), and a late dagger from his teammate Steph Curry (27.3 PTS, 47.2% FG, 43.7% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.2 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.4 BLK, 24.4 PER), managed to escape with a 104-100 victory. Despite shooting well overall (50.7%), the hosts struggled from beyond the arc (7-of-22, 31.8%), but nonetheless put the clamps on their opponent defensively, relegating Houston to a meager 41.9% shooting from the field, including 14-of-47 from downtown (29.8%), and hammered them on the glass, outrebounding the visitors 38-26. While Game Two wasn’t as tightly contested, though the outcome was no different, with Steve Kerr’s charges earning a 2-0 Series Lead courtesy of a 115-109 win that was actually much closer than the final score would lead you to believe. This time around, the Warriors continued to struggle from long-range (11-of-36, 30.6%), and weren’t nearly as effectively defensively, but once again enjoyed a healthy advantage on the boards (Plus-4), particularly in terms of Offensive Rebounds (Plus-8), and forced a wealth of Turnovers, harassing Houston into Seventeen, all but four of which came in the First Half. In a contest in which the teams shot nearly identical from the floor, the fact that those two factors led to a wealth of extra opportunities, Fourteen more Field Goal Attempts to be precise, made all the difference. Durant, Curry, and Klay Thompson (21.5 PTS, 46.7% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.6 PER) each scored over Twenty Points, with fellow Starters, Draymond Green (7.4 PTS, 44.5% FG, 28.5% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK, 12.9 PER) and Andre Iguodala (5.7 PTS, 50.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 13.1 PER), adding Fifteen and Sixteen Points respectively, on an efficient 12-of-19 shooting (63.2%). Kerr’s decision to revert back to this much smaller Lineup, their famed Hampton Five, made a huge difference in this outing, though it certainly came at the expense of their Bench, which accounted for just Fourteen Points in this case, and would loom large later in this Series.
After taking the first two games at home, the true test was how they would fair heading to Houston, a hostile environment where Game Seven of last year’s Western Conference Final was ultimately decided. Trailing for much of this contest, the visiting side rallied numerous times down the stretch, even taking a brief 112-110 lead with 0:45 remaining, before a timely foul and ensuing Free-Throws forced the tie into Overtime. From there, it was nip and tuck until the hosts pulled ahead, and Golden State squandering a number of chances to pull even, eventually falling in defeat 121-126. There was an awful lot to unpack in this one, folks, starting with yet another star showing from Durant, who scored Forty-Six Points on 14-of-31 shooting (45.2%), including 6-of-10 from downtown (60.0%), and 12-of-12 from the Charity Stripe (100.0%). On the other hand, Curry, who dislocated a finger on his non-shooting hand in Game Two, struggled mightily with Seventeen Points on 7-of-23 shooting (30.4%), including 2-of-9 from three (22.2%). Thompson was far from his best as well, logging Sixteen Points on just 6-of-16 shooting (37.5%), though Green continued to remind us all why he’s one of the better all-around players in the league, posting a Triple-Double with Nineteen Points, Twelve Rebounds, and Ten Assists. However, the Bench was virtually nonexistent (7 Points), and for the first time in this Series, the Warriors were pummeled on the glass (Minus-20), and in an inverse of Game Two, were outrebounded offensively 7-17. It goes without saying, but if the defending champions are to avoid falling into a 2-2 tie with their counterpart, then they’re going to need both Curry and Thompson to snap out of this funk that they’ve been in during this Series; the famed Splash Brothers have shot just 37.8% from the field, including a dismal 28.8% from beyond the arc through the first three games, while also being responsible for Sixteen Turnovers in comparison to dishing out Twenty Assists. Curry has also been plagued by Fouls, being flagged for Fifteen Personal Fouls, which along with that aforementioned dislocated finger, is clearly affecting his play.
Meanwhile, it’s time to stop making excuses and start making plays for the Rockets (53-29, 4th in Western Conference), who after embarrassingly protesting to the Officials during (and after) Game One’s defeat, and the timely leaking of a self-styled audit detailing the perceived mistakes of the Officiating Crew that handled that fateful Game Seven of last year’s Western Conference Finals, must refocus themselves in order to square this Series away at 2-2. The most infuriating thing about this team is that if you lack past the incessant whining to the Referees, and the persistent mistakes made on both ends of the court, they were very much in both of the first two games of this series, and an (unbiased) argument could be made that they could very well be up 3-0 in this Series. Granted, playing the What If? Game is a big reason for this mess in the aforementioned controversy in the first place, but the fact remains that if Houston could simply stay out of their own way long enough, they could finally dethrone the four-time reigning Western Champions. Looking back, Games One and Two were nothing but a series of errors that will only make Mike D’Antoni’s hair even greyer that it already is, for once again, both affairs were within their grasp, and in each case, they allowed victory to slip from their collective hands. In Game One, they shot just 41.9% from the field, including 14-of-47 from beyond the arc (29.8%), and despite a combined Seventy-Nine Points from James Harden (36.1 PTS, 44.2% FG, 36.8% 3FG, 6.6 REB, 7.5 AST, 2.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 30.6 PER), Chris Paul (15.6 PTS, 41.9% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 8.2 AST, 2.0 STL, 19.7 PER), and Eric Gordon (16.2 PTS, 40.9% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.4 BLK, 12.2 PER), the rest of the squad accounted for a mere Twenty-One Points on 7-of-18 shooting (38.9%). In Game Two, they had six different players score in double-figures, led once again by Harden, who early in the contest suffered a lacerated eyelid, which affected his vision throughout the game, scoring Twenty-Nine Points on 9-of-19 shooting (47.4%), including 3-of-7 from downtown (42.9%). The Rockets shot much better overall (46.8%), not to mention from long-range (17-of-40, 42.5%), but were extremely sloppy with the basketball, committing as many Turnovers (17) as they did Assists, with harden accounting for six of them. Nine of those Turnovers came in the First Quarter alone, leading to Fourteen Points for the home side, while the visiting side could muster just 7-of-19 shooting from the floor (36.9%). Furthermore, they were absolutely manhandled on the offensive glass (10-18), which as we detailed earlier when coupled with all of those Turnovers, led to a wealth of extra opportunities for their opponent. Come on, folks, the Warriors are good enough on their own, for they DON’T need another Fourteen Field Goal Attempts. After all, D’Antoni’s charges outscored the hosts by Eighteen Points from beyond the arc, though that advantage was erased via Points off Turnovers (Minus-9) and in terms of Second-Chance Points (Minus-12). Also, in case you wondering, the number of fouls whistled through the first two games of this Series has been largely even, with the Warriors being charged for Forty-Three Personal Fouls and the Rockets Forty-Two.
In returning to Houston down two games, the Rockets were faced with the unenviable task of having to come away with both victories on their home court if they were to have any hopes of swinging the momentum in this Series, and for their part, they managed to take a step in that direction with Saturday’s 126-121 Overtime epic. The hosts continued to improve on the offensive end of the floor, shooting 48.4% from the field, including 18-of-42 from downtown (42.9%), and this time managed to avoid the costly Turnovers from Game Two (13), and for the first time in this Series managed to dominate the boards, outrebounding the Warriors 55-35, particularly on the Offensive Glass where they were Plus-10. The extra days off clearly benefitted Harden, who led the team with Forty-One Points on 14-of-32 shooting (43.8%), including 5-of-13 from three (38.5%), while nailing a dagger from downtown in Overtime to put the game out of the visiting side’s reach. The aforementioned Gordon was stellar, totaling a career Playoff-High Thirty Points on 11-of-20 shooting (55.0%), including 7-of-14 from distance (50.0%), with three other Rockets also scoring in double-figures. Clint Capela (16.6 PTS, 64.8% FG, 12.7 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.5 BLK, 23.8 PER), their Starting Center whom they inked to a lucrative extension a few months ago, finally showed up after looking out of place throughout the first entries of this Series, logging Thirteen Points and Eleven Rebounds (5 Offensive), while P.J. Tucker (7.3 PTS, 39.6% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 12 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.5 BLK, 9.2 PER) added to the rebounding effort, accounting for Twelve (5 Offensive), to accompany his Seven Points, Three Assists, and Two Blocks, scoring a key layup late in Overtime to break the deadlock and give his side a cushion with which to work.