This was the Rockets' chance. An opportunity to put six months of inconsistency, rumor, and criticism in the rear view mirror and leave Oakland with a surprising one-game split and a renewed stab at making something of this lost season.
No playoff success comes without even just a little bit of luck, and the ball bounced Houston's way right before tip off when Stephen Curry was declared out with an ankle sprain. The Rockets, however, decided they didn't want it and bounced it right back. And instead, Houston used Game 2 as a referendum on why they didn't deserve that good bounce to begin with, falling to Golden State, 115-106.
It was every terrible thing that's been said about the Rockets all season long, only magnified times a thousand given the opponent and the stage.
There was a James Harden that scored 28 points, but 13 of them came at the foul line, and The Beard was pretty awful in the first half, when a superstar performer should have stepped up to announce, "I'm here tonight."
Instead Harden struggled through 2-8 shooting before the break, where his only two makes looked like they may have actually been intended as errant alley-oops. That's how off The Beard was on his shot to start the game.
The off shooting touch forced Harden into drawing contact and getting to the line, and the less aesthetically-pleasing parts of The Beard's game-- the gesticulating, the barking at officials for calls-- were all there for the national viewing audience.
As was the clip-worthy bad defense. Harden was twisted by Draymond Green on multiple occasions, left standing in cement as The Screamer moved around him to easy buckets. Harden was caught napping on team assignments more than once as well.
Dwight Howard was also invisible in the first half. He couldn't handle the ball, couldn't shoot the ball, and at times looked he'd never even held one before. It was truly a sight to behold in awkwardness. Even a sharper third period that led D-12 to finishing the game with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks was marred by some ugly interactions between the Rockets' two superstars.
There's been a lot of reasons for the Rockets' demise this season-- no need to go over them again here. But this has to be reason number one. Two supposed superstar players who look like they have no idea how to, or simply no interest in, playing together.
And to make matters worse, Howard intentionally fouled in total exasperation midway through the fourth, which later led to him fouling out with four minutes left in the game.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff also got an ugly looking technical moments before and generally looked like he had absolutely no answers of how to reach this team emotionally (hint: he doesn't).
There was very little secondary scoring help tonight, with Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, and Donatas Motiejunas shooting a combined 9-28 from the field, with D-mo appearing a little rattled at times at the physicality of Draymond Green.
The Rockets did get some surprise scoring punch from Jason Terry and Josh Smith, who hit three triples each off the bench, but it mattered little when all five starters struggled with either their shot, their composure, or both.
Throw in the customary no defense -- the Dubs scored 115 points on 49.4 percent shooting-- and the usual boatload of turnovers and then some-- another 19 tonight-- and all of Houston's ugly blemishes were on display for the world to see. It was everything maddening about this iteration of the Rockets.
Perhaps most maddening (and also fitting) is that despite all that, this game was there for the taking. The Rockets got within 3 points several times and tied the game once before ultimately collapsing down the fourth-quarter stretch (sound familiar?) under the weight of their own dysfunction.
While the Rockets had no one really step up, the Warriors got 34 from Klay Thompson, 18 from Andre Iguodala, 16 from Shaun Livingston, and 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists from Draymond Green. Sans their fearless leader, the Dubs did what good teams do: they rallied, and they got it done.
Faced with a little good luck and an actual opportunity to change the narrative of this series and their season, the Rockets did what bad teams do: they reverted to old habits, and then they fell apart.
The Rockets head back to Houston down 2-0 with the series at the moment looking dead in the water. Houston will try to resurrect it at home Thursday night.