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NBA PM: Rockets Live to See Another Day

The Rockets stayed alive with last night’s win. What do they need to do the keep avoiding elimination?

Cody Taylor profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Rockets Live to See Another Day

With their season on the line on Monday night, the Houston Rockets responded by turning in one of their best offensive performances of the season.

Houston erupted for a season-high 128 points in their Game 4 win over the Golden State Warriors and lived to see another day in the Western Conference Finals. This game went very differently than Game 3 on Saturday, as the Rockets could only scratch out 80 points on their home court. Following that game, Dwight Howard said he saw quit from his teammates. It’s safe to say that there was no quit from anyone on the Rockets on Monday night.

The Rockets opened up Game 4 by scoring the first 12 points of the game on their way to tying a franchise record for most points in any quarter of the playoffs with 45. They shot 77 percent from the field (17-of-22) and made eight out of nine three-pointers in the opening quarter. Josh Smith couldn’t miss, James Harden was cooking and each Rockets starter scored at least four points, while eight players scored in all during the period. The Rockets were expected to come out with more energy and effort following that Game 3 blunder, but they completely shattered expectations by scoring 45 points. Their hot start ensured that they’d never trail in the game.

“You very seldom win the game in the first few minutes but you can kind of set a tone, and I thought our start got us juiced up and got the crowd into it,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale told reporters after the game. “We needed that, but also, we needed to have fuel to make runs and then counter back.”

It seems this team plays their best basketball when their backs are against the wall and are down to their last chance. They trailed the Los Angeles Clippers 3-1 and then fired off three-straight wins to become just the ninth team in NBA history to come back from such a deficit. They trailed the Clippers by 19 points in the second half of Game 6 before staging an improbable comeback. At that point, it seemed like they were destined to advance. Now, trailing the Warriors 3-1, they’re back in a similar position as they were against the Clippers.

“I think at the end of the day when this season is over, you are going to look back on this team and that’s what we are going to say we hung our hat on, our ability to fight through adversity and never say die,” Jason Terry said. “That’s just personal pride. For me, it is championship toughness. Something I pride myself on and [it’s] starting to feed over into my teammates. Now, would you rather not get into these holes? Yes. But again, this is a new group. We are freshly new together. The core group hadn’t been together long at all. So adversity builds character, and it’s a great sign to see in this team.”

Even for a team like the Rockets that have come back once before, there are several obstacles they must overcome. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. Two out of the final three games of the series would be played in Oakland, a place the Rockets haven’t won all season long.

It’s also worth noting that the Rockets played a Warriors team at less than full strength after Stephen Curry exited the game for a stretch following a scary fall to the court. Curry would eventually return after receiving medical clearance to resume play, but his absence was felt.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles the Rockets will face is the possibility of playing without Howard. He was assessed a flagrant 1 foul in the third quarter of Monday night’s game after elbowing Andrew Bogut in the face. The move appeared to have been in retaliation as Bogut got away with a clear push on Howard that led to Howard throwing the elbow at Bogut. The referees deemed the foul was not worthy of a flagrant 2 foul, which allowed Howard to remain in the game. Howard would be suspended for Game 5 at Golden State if the league upgrades the foul to a flagrant 2.

“There’s nothing I can do about it at this point,” Howard said. “It’s never my intention to hurt anybody on the floor. My reaction was to try to get him off me, but I can’t react that way. [I need to] try to do my best to get away from the situation as quick as possible [in the future].”

The Rockets will need Harden to remain hot in Game 5 should Howard not be available. Harden willed the Rockets to victory by scoring a playoff career-high 45 points, and chipping in nine rebounds and four assists. He knocked down seven three-pointers in the game and came up big during various stretches of the game when the Warriors appeared close to erasing the lead. In the third quarter, Harden scored nine points during an 11-2 Rockets run to push the lead to 19 points. Then, with less than nine minutes remaining in the game, Harden chipped in seven points in a 10-0 Rockets run to help put the game away for good.

The two teams return to Oracle Arena on Wednesday for Game 5 in another must-win for Houston. The first two games of the series in Oakland were decided by a combined five points. They have shown that they can compete with the Warriors on the road as they led by as many as 16 points in Game 1 and even erased a 17-point Warriors lead in Game 2 to stay alive until the final possession.

“Our mindset is take [it] one game at a time,” Harden said. “Obviously it’s going to be in a hostile environment, but we’ve been there twice and we’ve had opportunities to win Game 1 and Game 2. We’ve got to play the same way. Obviously, they’re going to make a run. They’re a really good team, a really good shooting team. The faster we can snap out of it and not allow them to get 11‑ or 12‑point runs, we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win the game.”

Cavs Look to Sweep Hawks

The Cleveland Cavaliers are just one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. The Cavaliers pulled out a 114-111 overtime win on Sunday over the Atlanta Hawks to take a 3-0 series lead with Game 4 set to tip off tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The Cavs will have some added incentive to close out the series tonight. Should they manage a win, they’ll have the next eight days off before the Finals are scheduled to start next Thursday with a couple of key players banged up with various injuries.

Kyrie Irving has missed the past two games with a sore left knee while LeBron James suffered cramps on Sunday and played through various injuries to his knee, back and ankle.

“I got extensive treatment,” James said Monday. “I’m not going to elaborate on exactly what I got. Just right after the game, just started trying to prepare my body and get ready for Game 4.

“The playoffs should take a toll on your body where you feel exhausted at the end of it. That’s just how I play. That’s how I’ve learned, when you go and play in the postseason, you shouldn’t feel great playing a playoff game ever. A lot of intangibles going into how my body feels right now.”

Despite the Cavs on the verge of a series sweep, head coach David Blatt would prefer that Irving played in order to ensure his team of a series win.

“We need Kyrie on the court,” Blatt said. “We’re not really thinking about resting him as much as we’re thinking about him being healthy to play basketball. We need him on the court whether we’re up 1-0 or 2-1 or 3-0.

“That doesn’t really mean anything because this is the Conference Finals. There’s not a lot of time, and there’s not a lot of room for error. At the same time, if we’re risking his long-term health, we’re not going to do that. So we are where we are.”

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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