Rock­ets light up War­riors in Game 2 rout

Role play­ers step up for Houston as Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals knot­ted at a game apiece

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When P.J. Tucker sat there on Tues­day ex­plain­ing all the rea­sons why his Houston Rock­ets were go­ing to be just fine in these Western Con­fer­ence Fi­nals, there was no way to know if it was pro­pa­ganda or part of their ac­tual process.

The NBA’s best reg­u­lar sea­son team had been routed by Golden State in Game 1, and any­one who watched the dis­sec­tion with a dis­cern­ing eye could tell that the defending champs were fully ca­pa­ble of a re­peat per­for­mance. But Tucker, who would be­come a poster boy for the Rock­ets’ turn­around in their 127-105 Game 2 win a day later, wasn’t hav­ing it.

“Um, we didn’t do any­thing in Game 1,” he said with a laugh. “We had a chance to win that game, and it was prob­a­bly one of our worse de­fen­sive per­for­mances all year. We were hor­ri­ble. It’s all us. I mean we re­ally just feel like that. We feel like it was us.” How right he was. Here’s a look at how it hap­pened head­ing into Game 3 at Or­a­cle Arena on Sun­day night and the se­ries now tied 1-1.

Rock­ets role play­ers rolling

Tucker de­serves his credit up front here, as he went from be­ing a no-show in Game 1 (one point, 0-3 shoot­ing) to a scor­ing ma­chine in Game 2 (22 points and five of six from three-point range). For all the fo­cus on the star power in this se­ries, it was Tucker who served as the X-fac­tor dur­ing Houston’s two reg­u­lar sea­son wins against the War­riors (he av­er­aged 16 points and 2.5 made threes).

He was signed by Rock­ets gen­eral man­ager Daryl Morey last sum­mer for games like this, when the com­bi­na­tion of his feisty de­fense and his ca­pa­ble of­fense would be a game-changer against Golden State. He was hardly the only Rock­ets role player to change his for­tunes, though. Rock­ets small for­ward Trevor Ariza, who had just eight points in the opener, had 19 points, six as­sists and four re­bounds.

This, you might say, is what James Har­den meant when he said on Tues­day that he can’t do this alone. And no one aided that cause more than Eric Gor­don. While Har­den was hav­ing an off-shoot­ing night (nine of 24 for 27 points), the Rock­ets’ su­per sixth man had 27 points and hit six of nine threes.

A bet­ter Paul and a change of pace

The Rock­ets left dents in the floor in Game 1, when iso­la­tion ball ruled the day and they wound up with just three fast­break points. On Wed­nes­day, Houston had 10 of their 12 by half­time and led 64-50. The up-tempo pace was far bet­ter suited to five the War­riors fits.

Chris Paul had ev­ery­thing to do with it, as he had five of his six as­sists in the first half af­ter hav­ing just three in the opener. None were pret­tier than his dish to Tucker mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter, when he darted past scram­bling War­riors de­fend­ers and fired a pass to the left cor­ner with so much spin that it should have been in a bowl­ing al­ley.

Af­ter Tucker buried the three for a 46-35 lead and the War­riors called time­out, Paul could be seen re-en­act­ing the de­liv­ery with a chop­ping arm mo­tion as he strut­ted back to the Rock­ets bench. Lit­tle by lit­tle, Houston was cut­ting into the War­riors’ trunk.

War­riors mis­cues galore

War­riors star Steph Curry got picked on de­fen­sively even af­ter that plan back­fired in the Game 1 loss. This time it worked. The two-time MVP had his worst game since re­turn­ing from a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee on May 1, fin­ish­ing with 16 points on seven of 19 shoot­ing to go with seven re­bounds and seven as­sists.

Kevin Du­rant was spe­cial yet again (38 points on 13 of 22 shoot­ing), but he couldn’t save them by him­self this time. Du­rant has now scored 30-plus points in five of 12 play­off games.

Af­ter hav­ing just nine turnovers in Game 1, Golden State had 11 of its 15 in the first half (Dray­mond Green and An­dre Iguo­dala com­bined for seven).

A key Game 3

If Tucker was feel­ing good about this se­ries af­ter Game 1, it’s safe to as­sume his head is held even higher now as the Rock­ets head back to the Bay.

“We’ve been a great road team all year,” Tucker had said in that Tues­day chat. “They’ve got to win three more games, man. They’ve got to beat us four times (laughs). And we think, with our group and the way we’ve played all year, for any­body to do that, they’re go­ing to have to work.”

Har­den, James, Davis MVP fi­nal­ists

Houston Rock­ets guard James Har­den, Cleveland Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James and New Or­leans Pel­i­cans for­ward An­thony Davis were named fi­nal­ists for the NBA’s Most Valu­able Player award, the league an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

Har­den, 28, av­er­aged a league-lead­ing 30.4 points per game. He also con­trib­uted 8.8 as­sists and 5.4 re­bounds per game while lead­ing Houston to the league’s best record.

Davis, 25, av­er­aged a ca­reer-high 28.1 points, 11.1 boards and 2.6 blocks, along with a per­sonal-best 2.3 as­sists per game.

At 33, James would be the old­est player to win the award since a 35-year-old Karl Malone did so in 1998/99. A four-time win­ner of the award, James will fin­ish in the top five of MVP vot­ing for the 13th con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

Davis was also named a fi­nal­ist for De­fen­sive Player of the Year, along­side Utah Jazz cen­ter Rudy Gobert and Philadel­phia 76ers cen­ter Joel Em­biid. Gobert fin­ished sec­ond last year to Dray­mond Green.

The Six­ers and Jazz also have rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Rookie of the Year race, guards Ben Sim­mons and Dono­van Mitchell, re­spec­tively. Bos­ton Celtics for­ward Jayson Ta­tum is the third fi­nal­ist in that cat­e­gory.

Dwane Casey, who was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers be­fore be­ing fired by the Toronto Rap­tors last week, was named a fi­nal­ist for the of­fi­cial award voted on by sports­writers and broad­cast­ers. He is joined by Utah’s Quin Sny­der and Bos­ton’s Brad Stevens.

Rock­ets guard Eric Gor­don, Rap­tors guard Fred VanVleet and Los Angeles Clip­pers guard Lou Wil­liams are fi­nal­ists for Sixth Man of the Year, which Gor­don won last year as Wil­liams fin­ished third. Wil­liams won the award in 2014-15.

Houston’s Clint Capela, the Brook­lyn Nets’ Spencer Din­wid­die and the In­di­ana Pac­ers’ Vic­tor Oladipo are fi­nal­ists for Most Im­proved Player.


HOUSTON ROCK­ETS guard Chris Paul drives to the bas­ket against Golden State War­riors de­fender Dray­mond Green for two of his 16 points in the Rock­ets’ 127-105 home vic­tory over the War­riors in Wed­nes­day’s Game 2 of the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

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