Rock­ets look to avoid fall­ing in 0-3 hole against Golden State

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY KRISTIE RIEKEN

HOUS­TON

James Har­den knows the suc­cess or fail­ure of the Hous­ton Rock­ets falls on him re­gard­less of what the rest of the team does in the Western Con­fer­ence semifinals against the Golden War­riors.

That bur­den, he says, is one that most peo­ple can’t un­der­stand but that makes him bet­ter, some­thing he’ll need to be if the Rock­ets hope to avoid fall­ing into a 0-3 hole Satur­day night when they host Game 3.

“How can I ex­plain it,” he asked. “If you’ve never been in that sit­u­a­tion be­fore or don’t know what it feels like, I can’t give you the (feel­ing).”

Last year’s MVP and a front-run­ner this sea­son thrives on that pres­sure and is ready for the chal­lenge fac­ing him as the Rock­ets try to close the gap in the se­ries.

“It makes me who I am and I wouldn’t ex­pect any­one who hasn’t been in this po­si­tion or doesn’t got the world on their shoul­ders to get it,” he said.

Har­den is re­cov­er­ing af­ter both of his eyes were in­jured in the first quar­ter of Game 2 when he was hit by Golden State’s Dray­mond Green as the two fought for a re­bound. He re­turned in the sec­ond quar­ter of that game and went on to score 29 points, but said af­ter­ward that he could barely see and was suf­fer­ing from blurry vi­sion from the blow.

His eyes still had large bloody ar­eas this week in prac­tice but he said he was feel­ing bet­ter and didn’t ex­pect his eyes to be a prob­lem on Satur­day.

The Rock­ets will look for Har­den to be back to full strength to lead the team and gain mo­men­tum in the se­ries. Both teams are aware that Hous­ton will be des­per­ate to win on Satur­day since no team has ever come back af­ter los­ing the first three games to win a play­off se­ries.

War­riors coach Steve Kerr was de­scrip­tive in his pre­dic­tion for what the War­riors should ex­pect from the Rock­ets in Game 3.

“Fire and fury,” Kerr said. “It sounds like the ti­tle of a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. They’re com­ing af­ter us, we know that. Great team, they’re com­pet­i­tive, they’re tough. It’s just 2-0. We’ve done a good job of pro­tect­ing our home court and now it’s their chance to re­spond.”

The War­riors are well­versed on how dif­fi­cult it is to play in Hous­ton, but they’ve also had suc­cess on the Rock­ets home court, hav­ing won two games there in last year’s Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals, in­clud­ing Game 7.

“The job is far from over,” Golden State guard Klay Thomp­son said. “We know that the tough­est part of the se­ries will be in Hous­ton. We did what we were sup­posed to do de­fend­ing home court, we’ve just got to pro­tect it by get­ting one down there.”

NEED TO KNOW

The Rock­ets are fo­cused on get­ting off to a bet­ter start on Satur­day af­ter be­ing done in by poor first quar­ters in the first two games. Golden State has outscored Hous­ton 57-39 com­bined in the first quar­ters of Games 1 and 2. Of the other six quar­ter, the War­riors have scored more than the Rock­ets in just one of them, with Hous­ton hold­ing a 170-162 ad­van­tage in the fi­nal three quar­ters of the first two games.

Hous­ton’s de­fen­sive stop­per P.J. Tucker had a sim­ple an­swer for how the Rock­ets can have a bet­ter first quar­ter on Satur­day.

“Play­ing harder,” he said.

IN­JURY WATCH

Stephen Curry’s dis­lo­cated left, non-shoot­ing mid­dle fin­ger has been taped in re­cent days since he in­jured it in the first quar­ter of Game 2, when both he and Har­den spent time in the locker room af­ter be­ing in­jured.

Kerr was happy to have the rest for Curry. He and Thomp­son also are play­ing on ten­der right an­kles they sprained in Game 6 of the first round against the Clip­pers and Golden State had a quick turn­around to Game 1 against the Rock­ets last Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Hav­ing more time off be­fore Game 3 helped.

“I think it’s come at a good time,” Kerr said.

KEEP AN EYE ON

At 35 years old, An­dre Iguo­dala — the 2015 NBA Fi­nals MVP — is play­ing some of his best bas­ket­ball and set­ting a de­fen­sive tone against Har­den. Kerr went with Iguo­dala back in the start­ing lineup for the first two games of the se­ries — say­ing “it’s our best lineup.”

Iguo­dala has been known to pace him­self in

‘‘

I’VE GOT TO BE MORE AG­GRES­SIVE, BOTH OF­FEN­SIVELY AND DEFENSIVELY AND HOPE­FULLY THAT WILL OPEN UP THE GAME EVEN MORE FOR CLINT. BUT DEFENSIVELY IS WHERE WE’VE GOT TO IM­POSE OUR WILL. WHEN WE GET STOPS AND GET OUT IN TRAN­SI­TION WE’RE ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN THE LEAGUE.

Chris Paul

the reg­u­lar sea­son to be fresh for the big play­off stage. Kerr thought Iguo­dala had one of his bet­ter reg­u­lar sea­sons, too.

“We want play­off An­dre to be play­off An­dre, not Jan­uary An­dre,” Kerr said.

Golden State is 6-1 all-time in the post­sea­son when us­ing the start­ing lineup of Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Green, Iguo­dala and Thomp­son.

“I think he’s bet­ter right now in this post­sea­son than he’s been in years, reg­u­lar sea­son or post­sea­son,” Green said. “It’s a spe­cial thing, as bouncy as he is and the de­fense that he’s play­ing, the con­fi­dence he’s ex­uded on the of­fen­sive end. He’s just been an all-around great player for us.”

PRES­SURE IS ON

The Rock­ets have their backs against the wall af­ter los­ing the first two games. Hous­ton’s Chris Paul be­lieves they all need to play bet­ter to turn things around, but the vet­eran is putting it on him­self to help other play­ers like cen­ter Clint Capela get go­ing.

“I’ve got to be more ag­gres­sive, both of­fen­sively and defensively and hope­fully that will open up the game even more for Clint,” he said. “But defensively is where we’ve got to im­pose our will. When we get stops and get out in tran­si­tion we’re one of the best teams in the league.”

JEFF CHIU AP

Hous­ton Rock­ets guard James Har­den wipes his in­jured eye with a towel Tues­day dur­ing the first half of Game 2 of the sec­ond-round se­ries against the Golden State War­riors in Oak­land.

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