The Rockets had their chance, and they blew it.
The Rockets were tied up wth the reigning champs at halftime. Stephen Curry slipped on the court at the buzzer and sprained his knee, not to return. The team was playing with energy and cohesiveness, and wow was it fun. Patrick Beverley was out, and that was a concern, but he's not the MVP and scoring champion.
Of course, these are the Rockets and it is 2016, so the most rational outcome was always bound to be the least likely to happen. Instead, Beverley's absence meant the intensity he brings was left in the locker room at halftime, and the Rockets got kicked around by Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They were outscored 41-20 in the third quarter and never recovered. They are now down 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, and none of the three losses have been close.
It wasn't just that they lost, it's how they lost. Instead of battling and showing pride, the Rockets collapsed. They didn't get back on transition. They didn't move the ball. They didn't challenge Draymond Green when he started yapping. They just folded in on themselves.
James Harden played the first 40 minutes straight of this game, sat when the Rockets were down big in the fourth quarter and did not return. He played his heart out, but was too gassed to make a difference when the Rockets needed some fight. He finished with 18 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals. His defense in the first half was outstanding, and his passing made the Rockets hum offensively.
I would love to talk some about the first half, in which the Rockets looked great. They weren't hitting their shots at all — they finished 5-27 from deep and 42 percent from the floor — but their defense and hustle kept them ahead for the most part, and only let the Warriors come back to tie because of the record shooting on the other side (the Warriors hit 21 threes, most ever in a playoff game).
Donatas Motiejunas had his best defensive game of the season. Dwight Howard was around the rim and caught, I believe, four alley-oops. The Rockets did a fantastic job of trailing Curry around the perimeter, forcing him into 1-7 shooting.
But none of it matters now. The Rockets were outscored 65-38 in the second half. They find themselves in the same position they were in last year against the Clippers, but the Warriors are not a powder keg of playoff nerves waiting to explode. They are the reigning NBA champs, a confident bunch that has closed out three games against the Rockets with Curry not on the court.
The Rockets of last year are gone. The Rockets of Game 3 didn't bother to stay past intermission. It doesn't matter what happens in the rest of this series, the season deserves to be over. It's too hard to watch this team roll over time and again when everything they should be fighting for is within their grasp.