Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. And if the Rockets win the championship next month, last night’s Game 4 will be seen as one of the greatest wins in franchise history.
Regardless of how this season ends, it is still one of the most impressive wins in Rockets history. The team made history last night by winning a playoff game in Oakland for the first time ever and reclaimed homecourt advantage in the series.
With the team’s 41-point loss on Sunday scoring an abysmal 85 points, the Rockets needed to come out and score, score, score. And that’s exactly what they didn’t do.
The game started out on a 12-0 Warriors run, and the Rockets didn’t score until Harden dunked on a fast break with 6:42 remaining in the first. The offense improved as the game progressed, but it was by no means spectacular. Houston shot just 39 percent from the field, with James Harden shooting 11-26 and Eric Gordon making just four of his 14 shot attempts.
The only player who had a good night on offense is Chris Paul, who also started off the game very cold with zero points in the first quarter. He ended up with 27 points on 10-20 shooting from the field and shot 5-9 from beyond. However, on the defensive end, all seven Rockets that saw the floor last night showed up and each had their moments of excellence.
James Harden quieted his doubters last night with a good defensive showing in the second quarter that fueled a 34-18 second quarter run from the Rockets. This play increased the lead from three to five for the Rockets.
Gerald Green (!!!) had two excellent blocks on Stephen Curry, both of which could have shifted the momentum back in the Warriors’ favor:
I have bagged on Gerald Green and did so tonight and in the 4th, he was awesome defensively.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 23, 2018
Got caught off-guard by Curry’s cut and recovered SO HARD and blocked the snot out of it.
Curry got swatted in the 4th a bunch. pic.twitter.com/eaAfc1Zj5z
And in the final meaningful play of the game, Trevor Ariza traps Klay Thompson in the corner and forces him into a difficult mid-range shot.
Klay Thompson misses the desperation shot as the Warriors don't call timeout. pic.twitter.com/0c41M0hJdr— RealGM (@RealGM) May 23, 2018
Other Rockets had good games that won’t be shown in the box score. Clint Capela protected the paint well in his 24 minutes of play. The reason why Capela didn’t play more was simply because of lineup formations, not because Capela was playing poorly. Capela grabbed 13 rebounds last night.
P.J. Tucker was the unsung hero for the Rockets last night who had a major impact despite not sinking a single field goal. Tucker played a team-high 45 minutes on the court. He also secured 16 rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end, and often crashed the glass against much taller Warriors. Tucker held his own and his hustle was a huge reason why the Rockets won last night.
Golden State shot just 39.3 percent from the field and made just seven triples as a team. With the exception of their 12-0 run to begin the game and a 25-8 run to end the third quarter, the offense was off. It wasn’t all the fact that Golden State’s shots were off, but it was because Houston forced them into bad shots. Golden State had just 12 points in the final frame, sinking just three field goals on 18 attempts. The defense in the fourth quarter was stout and necessary in order for the Rockets to complete their second fourth-quarter double digit comeback on the road against the Warriors this season.
In contrast, the Rockets were atrocious on the defensive end in Game 3, allowing the Warriors to shoot 52.6 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from downtown. The Rockets allowed a postseason-high 126 points and looked completely lethargic on defense. It is safe to say the Rockets made a 180 degree turn in the right direction last night and it is why they are back in this series.
Houston has taken a completely new attitude on defense this season and it has changed the culture of the team. It is what has pushed them above the hump of the second round, and it could be what pushes them past the Conference Finals as well. Houston has shot well in only one game, Game 2, in this series. The Rockets still need two more wins, and if the Rockets want to get those wins, the defense will have to be just as en pointe as it was last night.