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Game 1 loss shows importance of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to the Rockets

The two role players have a large impact on wins and losses.

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game One Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Until the Rockets win a game in this series, the criticism will be rampant.

“The Rockets are done.”

“The Rockets will get swept.”

“The Rockets can never beat the Warriors.”

It may not all be deserved, but when there are fewer teams left in the league, the spotlight gets brighter, and no series has a brighter spotlight than this Western Conference Finals. One loss will lead to overreactions.

I’m not saying the Rockets will or will not win this series, or that the Rockets will or will not get swept, but Game 2 is a new game, and it too can change the momentum of the whole series. If the Rockets win by 30, people may deem the Warriors finished, when they will be far from that.

One thing the Rockets need if they want to win Game 2 is more production from their role players, specifically P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute.

In Game 1, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson played like the All-Stars they are, combining for 65 points. Chris Paul and James Harden nearly matched them with 64 combined points. Push.

Here is the scoring output from the next three highest scorers for each team:

Golden State: Stephen Curry (18), Andre Iguodala (11), Nick Young (9)

Houston: Eric Gordon (15), Clint Capela (12), Trevor Ariza (8)

A three-point advantage for the Warriors. Add the one extra point from Durant/Thompson vs. Harden/Paul, and the Warriors had a four-point lead. That’s not enough to blow the game open.

But here’s the scoring distribution for each team outside of its top five scorers:

Golden State: Shaun Livingston (7), Draymond Green (5), David West (2), Kevon Looney (2)

Houston: Gerald Green (6), P.J. Tucker (1), Luc Mbah a Moute (0), Nene (0), Ryan Anderson (0)

Nene and Anderson placed goose eggs in the box score Monday night, but the two combined to shoot just 0-2 in 11 minutes. The main story here is that two of the key acquisitions the Rockets made in the offseason combined to shoot 0-9 from the floor, while both playing significant minutes. That’s why the Rockets lost Game 1.

The more frustrating part of this is LMAM’s 0-6 night in perhaps his worst game as a Rocket. Three of those misses came right at the rim, and if he makes those shots, and perhaps makes his two open threes, you are looking at a one-point game. And maybe if a call goes the Rockets direction that didn’t (looking at you, backcourt violation), you’re possibly looking at a Rockets win. The game was a lot closer than the 119-106 score suggested.

The Rockets have beaten the Warriors twice this season.

Here’s their stats from their first win against the Warriors:

Both players shot 6-9 from the floor, and both made multiple threes, going a combined 6-9 from the three-point line.

And here’s their stats from their win in mid-January:

Mbah a Moute started the game in January for a suspended Trevor Ariza (Thanks, Tunnel-gate). The pair combined to shoot 9-17 from the floor and were 3-7 from three while being perfect at the foul line.

I also don’t think that it is much of a coincidence that in the one game the Rockets dropped to the Warriors in early January was a game in which Mbah a Moute was injured and Tucker had a whopping zero points.

Sure, there is an argument that the Rockets’ large amount of ISO-ball was the cause of poor play outside of Harden and CP3, but the team went that route because the rest of the team was struggling and not enough offensive cuts were made to get open. Harden and CP3 combined for 64 points last night, while the rest of the team had just 42 altogether. When Harden and Paul realized the team was off, they took matters into their own hands, but the Rockets can’t win the series, or a game against the Warriors for that matter, if the rest of the team is cold.

The math is simple.

Luc and P.J. play good = Rockets win

Luc and P.J. play bad = Rockets loss

Let’s hope the pair plays better tomorrow night.