Houston Rockets even Western Conference Finals by sticking to blueprint and other takeaways from Game 2

Jay Asser 14:39 17/05/2018
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Eric Gordon rises for a shot over Draymond Green in Game 2.

After being left for dead following their series-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors on their home floor, the Houston Rockets responded by striking back in Game 2 to even the Western Conference Finals.

The Warriors remain in an enviable position having already stolen home-court as the series now shifts to Oakland, but the 127-105 victory by the Rockets was a promising first step to making this a competitive match-up.

Here are takeaways from Game 2.

More of the same, just done better

Houston’s offence was much more efficient – obviously, they scored 127 points – but it wasn’t because they changed up their approach and decided to abandon isolation basketball.

While they were undoubtedly more fluid and used crisp ball movement to catch the Warriors’ defence leaning on several possessions, attacking one-on-one remained their bread and butter.

Rather than using James Harden isolations over and over, the Rockets spread the opportunity between their lead scorer, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon for more balance.

Paul scored 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but it was Gordon who truly made the difference as he dropped 27 on 8-of-15 from the field, including 6-of-9 from deep.

P.J. Tucker also stepped up and took advantage of his spot-up chances, hitting 8-of-9 overall and 5-of-6 from long range for 22 points.

Aesthetically, the offence looked more spread out and predicated on passing rather than dribbling, but the numbers aren’t reflective of that. Houston’s assist percentage was slightly higher than Game 1 – 46.2 per cent to 51.1 – but they only made two more total passes – 226 to 228.

If anything, the Rockets should be encouraged that they didn’t have to change up what worked for them all season and do something entirely different. They won playing their style and that should give them confidence heading into Game 3.

Death Lineup doesn’t come alive

Warriors coach Steve Kerr started his ‘Death Lineup’ for the fourth straight game and used it more than he has at any point in the playoffs, keeping them on the floor 21.3 minutes.

Heading into Game 2, that lineup had outscored teams by 56 points in 71 minutes while boasting an offensive rating of 126.4 points and a defensive mark of 92.0 for a net rating of 34.4.

In Game 2, however, the Hamptons Five finished with a net rating of minus-35.9 and were outscored by 18 points.

Considering how dominant that lineup has been over the years, it’s shocking to see them produce those kind of putrid numbers. But it’s likely their performance was an aberration and will positively regress to the mean going forward.

Still, it may be all the justification Kerr needs to trot out a more traditional lineup with a conventional centre for more minutes.

Curry is quiet again

Is it time to start worrying about Stephen Curry and, more specifically, his health?

For the second straight game, the Warriors guard was held in check to the tune of the 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting, including just 1-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Afterward, both Curry and Kerr shook off any suggestions that he’s still dealing with lingering effects from a knee sprain that sidelined him for nearly all of March and April.

Curry’s numbers were fairly efficient in the second round, but his explosion and lift don’t appear to be back to 100 per cent.

There’s also some concern in how Golden State are using him on offence, which has seen the two-time MVP turn into more of a secondary option as Kevin Durant has been far and away the primary shot creator.

Houston’s defence and their aggressiveness in attacking Curry on the other end of the floor could also be reasons for why he’s looked unlike himself.

Regardless, if Curry doesn’t bounce back soon, this series – and the NBA Finals if Golden State advance – could be a lot closer than anticipated after Game 1.

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