In our preview of Game 4, we said the Rockets were playing for pride. Well, they showed a hell of a lot of it, coming out as hot as the core of the sun in with a 45-point first quarter, which lasted them until James Harden got cooking and dominated the fourth quarter. He had 45 points total, a new career playoff high (I'm beginning to think 45 might be these Rocket's lucky number), and the Rockets won 128-115 to send their fans home happy. Well, eventually.
The bad news about that game: Even with the Rockets shooting 8-9 from three for a quarter and Josh Smith shooting 7-8 from the floor for the game, the Rockets still needed James Harden to bail them out when the Warriors got close in the fourth quarter. It was damn near a perfect storm for Houston, and that includes Steph Curry missing a chunk of the game with a head contusion and being slow to get back up to speed once he did return. He still went 6-13 from behind the arc, because of course.
Now it gets really tough. The Warriors are 45-3 at home so far this season (including the playoffs), and they haven't had a closeout game there yet. Rest assured, Oracle Arena will be a frenzied atmosphere, louder than in Games 1 and 2 (if that's possible). That crowd has real power, especially in one crucial area -- borderline calls from the referees. James Harden has averaged 3.6 more free throw attempts at home than on the road in these playoffs.
Of course, the Rockets so far have played the Warriors extremely tough in Oakland. Their two losses came by a total of five points, and both were up for grabs late. That's as encouraging as anything at this point.
Now, the less encouraging stuff. Steph wasn't listed on the Warriors' injury report yesterday, so he should play barring the late onset of any concussion symptoms. James Harden's heroics in Games 1 and 2 were largely thanks to hitting an unsustainable amount of step-back mid-range jumpers. He had a more balanced performance in Game 4, and he's going to need to keep that balance or stave off natural regression for another game to do enough for Houston.
Want to know how crazy Game 4 was? Jason Terry and Corey Brewer were the only Rockets to shoot below 50 percent from the floor (and Terry was 4-9). I think it's safe to say that the Rockets aren't going to be scoring 128 points in back-to-back games. It's also safe to say that the Rockets' defense needs to improve to compensate for their shooting coming back to earth.
Draymond Green was just as much of a problem for Houston as Curry. He had 21 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocks -- AND HE FOULED OUT WITH OVER THREE MINUTES LEFT. Terrence Jones has spent the last two series getting completely roasted by two elite offensive power forwards, and Josh Smith hasn't done much better.
Let's talk about T-Jones for a second. He has been a train wreck for large portions of this series, getting outmuscled on the boards by Green, and not preventing Green from doing anything. On offense, he is pounding the ball and forcing up shots in the post. He commits to scoring incredibly early, and the Warriors know it, sending double teams at him that he wildly flails against. How do you think Dray got five blocks? He has to be willing to pass out of the post and take advantage of the help that's being sent at him.
The Rockets are switching every Curry-Green pick-and-roll, and it's getting torn up. Smoove and Jones are giving up Curry threes to avoid getting blown by, and no one who switches onto Draymond can prevent him from penetrating and either scoring or dishing it out to the perimeter for open looks. He's every bit as vital to the Dubs as Steph (he had played 40 minutes before fouling out, so it would have been 43 in Game 4), and the Rockets need to treat him as such.
It's still do-or-die time for the Rockets, a time that they've owned in this postseason so far. Let's hope they can keep showing us how relentless they are, and gut out another win, somehow. And if they can't, at least they showed some pride and didn't get swept.