There are few words to describe the Houston Rockets’ play in their Game 3 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Ineffective is too soft, a choke job too harsh. The truth lies somewhere in the depressing middle.
The Rockets had too much nervous energy before a pivotal game, and missed easy shot after easy shot. In the first half, their defensive effort was enough to keep the game close. In the second half, to borrow a phrase from Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets let go of the rope.
The Warriors won by 41 points, 126-85. By midway through the third quarter, when Stephen Curry decided to show up in the series, the game felt over. The Rockets cut the deficit to 13, but after a Steve Kerr timeout, the Warriors rattled off another run to take the lead over 20 and the rout was on.
The enduring memory of this game from the Houston side — not the Steph shimmy, which get used to seeing that every second for the rest of Curry’s career if the Warriors win this series — will be an avalanche of missed layups. James Harden and Chris Paul combined to shoot 12-32, but both improved those percentages after the game was well out of reach.
The two Hall-of-Famers played scared on offense, hesitant to shoot and making mental mistakes. Clint Capela was the only Rockets player you could confidently say played well in this game, and by the end of the third quarter, D’Antoni had stopped playing him in favor of having five three-point threats on the floor. Not that it mattered, since the Rockets only hit 11 of 34 from deep, and again, several of those were after the blowout was on and served as rather inconsequential.
In the first half, their defensive energy was high despite the inability to score on the other end. But when the Warriors started the third quarter on a 10-0 run hitting tough shots, the shoulders in red sank. The hope had left the team, another devastating third quarter punctuated by Curry the finisher.
Harden finished with 20 points on 16 shots, 9 assists and 5 rebounds. Paul had 13 points on 16 shots (blech), 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Capela had 13 and 8 in only 21 minutes. Ariza and Tucker, who combined for 42 points in Game 2, combined for 12. Their unfortunate role as the Rockets’ bellwethers continues.
Curry had 35 points, Durant had an easy 25. The basketball world will be atwitter with how dominant the Warriors were in this game, and in many ways they were. This game was largely the story of one team, and that’s the Rockets. They came up short too often early and were mentally defeated the way out of the locker room at halftime.
The Rockets didn’t need this game. Maybe that halftime conversation went something like “this one’s already over, just don’t get hurt out there.” I doubt it, but the Rockets need only to win Game 4 to retake control of this series. They can’t play worse than they did in Game 3, although the prospect of a complete reversal and an injection of supreme confidence seems more unlikely as we sit in the stench of the complete turd the Rockets left in the conference finals punch bowl Sunday night.
Maybe this season will turn around. I firmly believe the Rockets are capable of beating the Warriors if they play their best. They have only done that for one game out of three so far. Their backs are once again against the wall in Game 4. If they play hungry and unafraid, this could be a 2-2 series going back to Houston. But the team that just walked off the the floor at Oracle is not ready to do that. They have one day off to get there.