I think it is fair to say the loss was expected, but you did not expect to see the type of fight the Rockets ended up showing before ultimately falling. The numbers will say it's a 13-point loss, but this game was MUCH closer than the final score. Of course, lots of Warriors games wind up big wins after wearing down their opponents through 40 or so minutes.
Players and coaches will never say the words "moral victory" but this loss is exactly what that term was invented for. Below are three takeaways from the Rockets road loss to the Warriors
Toe-to-toe with the champs, for a while
After giving up a 42-point first quarter, game over, right? Nope. The Rockets came back with a vengeance. With tighter coverage on defense and better offensive execution, the Rockets would slowly chip away at the big lead the Warriors had built.
It would take the Rockets all the way to the start of the third quarter for them to take the lead from the Warriors. After being down 15 to potentially the greatest team of all time, just getting back into the game, let alone taking the lead, is an accomplishment.
James Harden took over the game offensively. In the first quarter Harden had nothing, but in the second quarter, he was able to put up 18 points, finishing the night with 37.
Dwight Howard also came up big, changing shots and rebounding the ball. He was also able to provide an inside presence to help balance out the Rockets offense, he'd finish with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
In the final frame, the Rockets held Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry to only four points between them. Unfortunately, Harrison Barnes tuned up the Rockets for 17 points by himself, matching the Rockets total output in the quarter. He made those shots from the three-point arc, on post-ups and in the mid-range game. All over the court, he couldn't miss.
Still the same problems
In exit interviews after the Western Conference Finals loss to the Warriors, Harden said he needed another playmaker, someone that could help ease the burden of creating for himself and others.
During the Warriors series last year, it became evident the Rockets needed someone else. Tuesday night, the same thing became quite clear. Harden just can't beat the Warriors single-handedly, no one can.
The Rockets made the trade for Ty Lawson, but for whatever reason, he just won't ever work here in Houston. If the Rockets are to ever beat the Warriors more than just once, they need another offensive threat.
If you are able to hold Curry down, the Warriors still have more options to beat you with. If you do the same to the Rockets with Harden, what are they going to be able to do?
No one will admit it, but J.B. Bickerstaff should have preached it to the team in the locker room following the loss. The effort the Rockets put into the final three-quarters is good enough to beat a large portion of the NBA.
Harden was alert and just put in effort on defense. Really, that's all anyone is asking for. The shots that were made on Harden were tough jumpers over an outstretched hand. When teammates see Harden work so hard on both ends, it makes everyone else step up their game as well.
This season, in so many games, the Rockets are either good in the final quarter or two in order to pull out the win. Or they sleepwalk through the game and by halftime there is so much of a mountain to climb it seems near impossible.
Tuesday the Rockets brought grit, heart and fire to the game. While it is still a loss, this game had the feel of the same team that made it to the Western Conference Finals. Now they have to sustain it tonight against the Blazers to ensure a winning record and a spot in the playoffs heading into the All-Star Break.