Oh man. I mean… Let’s just…I don't know. Maybe, lets just take a moment.
Ok, now that I’ve had that moment, lets get into the game. James Harden was brilliant once again. Dwight Howard showed just how tough he was and turned in a marvelous performance. Other than that, the Rockets were more than up and down as a team. Especially on defense. It’s one thing to force a shooter into a tough or contested shot. The Warriors did a lot of that to James Harden in Game 1 but he made shots anyways. In Game 2, the Rockets decided they didn't want to guard anyone, ever. They let the MVP, Stephen Curry, get 3 wide open threes in the first quarter. And I mean wide open. Here, look.
The Rockets in general had no idea what they were doing on defense. Harden unnecessarily helped while he was one man away and the lack of good communication and switching led to another Curry open look. Look at how the off-ball defenders lose their man. Here, Brewer gets caught snoozing and allows Shaun Livingston to cut to the basket for a dunk.
On offense the Rockets also employed a very dangerous strategy. They fed Josh Smith early and often. I know Houston needs their role players to have a chance against Golden State, but this was just irresponsible. Smith took seven of the Rockets first 13 shots while managing to make just two of them. Meanwhile, Harden was running up and down the floor getting in some light cardio. Not like Harden is an elite scorer or anything.
The Rockets offense gets easier for everyone else when Harden is the focal point, not when he is standing around doing nothing. Harden was 2-4 from the field and 3-3 from the line in the first quarter but could have had so much more had it not been for Smith. The Warriors switched every pick and roll that Harden was in except ones that Andew Bogut was involved in. With a hobbled Howard, it makes it tough to run this over and over, but Bogut dropping into the lane allows more room for Harden to operate. A healthy Dwight and healthy dose of Dwight/Beard pick and rolls could keep the Rockets from falling behind in Game 3.
The one saving grace for the Rockets was the Warriors' sloppy play. Golden State turned it over seven times in the first frame that led to 11 Houston points and allowed them to keep it within striking distance. And in the second quarter, strike they did.
After allowing the Warriors lead to balloon to 17, The Breakfast Defector led the Rockets on a 26-3 run to end the half. He scored 12 points and assisted on three other baskets that led to seven more points. The Rockets also decided to dial up the defense. Curry took only one three-pointer in the second quarter, scoring just two points after having 15 in the first quarter. After not being able to figure out how to switch, the Rockets all of sudden got it together and forced the Warriors away from their strengths. When all was said and done, the first half ended the way it started, all tied up.
In the third quarter Kevin McHale got desperate and went to Nick Johnson. While Johnson has barely played in the playoffs, he managed to do something none of the other Rockets could or would do, find Curry on the perimeter. Twice, late in the third quarter, Johnson closed out hard on Curry. One possession ended in a Curry offensive foul and the other in a Curry missed three. Had the rest of the Rockets been able to do this all game, maybe we see a different outcome.
While Harden was great the entire game, McHale was not. McHale let Smith hijack the offense and almost destroy Harden’s heroics. Smith continued to put up horrible shots, including one possession where he was the only player to touch it, resulting in a missed step-back three as the shot clock expired. Smith shot just as poorly in the second half, going 2-6. He finished with a plus/minus of -9, third worst for the Rockets. It may sound dumb, but the Rockets have to outscore the Warriors but they can’t just outscore the Warriors.
One adjustment that McHale made that paid dividends was trapping Curry. The biggest benefit of this came with under a minute left as a Corey Brewer/Terrence Jones trap led to an eight-second violation. The Rockets then got a Harden-to-Howard lob and cut the lead to one. While they can’t trap Curry every possession, it is a tactic that can be useful when timed right and used as a change of coverage.
The Rockets had a chance to win it in the end, but Harden couldn't get a shot off between a Curry and Thompson double team. There are tough losses like Game 1 and then there are heart-breaking losses that haunt you forever. If the Rockets can’t come back in the series, this is going to be one of those losses.