Midway through the third quarter, the Houston Rockets had closed a 23 point gap to a mere 5 point deficit. Houston was making yet another late game run to recover from yet another anemic start, and the crowd was on its feet in the Toyota center. Then Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry drilled threes, and the comeback was over as quickly as it had begun. Out of energy, out of accuracy and out of sorts, the Rockets eventually fell by 30 points to a Warriors team desperate to hold onto the 6th seed, and just as desperate to prove they can defeat a new rival in the Houston Rockets.
Stephen Curry played 45 minutes, and Klay Thompson played 42. Both sat down with about two minutes left in the game, when garbage time finally arrived. Curry had only sat for 74 seconds in the game thus far, and was deadly effective the whole way. Thompson hit 6 of his 9 three pointers, and Curry was 12-22 from the field, both with many open looks. The Warriors played like their season was on the line, which in many ways it was. A loss to the Rockets would send them below the 6th seed, possibly for good, likely pitting them against the Spurs or Thunder in the playoffs. After losing big to the Bulls, the Warriors had something to prove, and Curry and Thompson proved it with only a few minutes of rest between them.
The Rockets, on the other hand, couldn’t match the playoff intensity of the Warriors, only coming alive in the third quarter to make a huge early run. As their head of steam cooled off, the Warriors took control once again, behind an endless fusillade of threes from the Warriors’ backcourt. Of course, none of that would have been necessary if the Rockets had only avoided their worst first quarter of the season.
The Rockets shot a horrifying 19.6% from the floor in the first quarter, picking up a paltry 10 points along the way. The Rockets hit 3 of their 23 field goals in the first quarter, though the Warriors were obliging enough to score only 18 points in that same period. Nothing was working for either team to start the game, and the Warriors put it together sooner. Golden State would come out of the evening shooting a decent 45.8% from the field and a blistering 50% from three. The Rockets, on the other hand, improved to a dismal 32.6% from the field and 25.7% from deep.
The interior defense of Bogut was a huge part of Golden State’s success, though Harden and Lin were still aggressive most of the night. Houston’s starting backcourt was the sole diamond in a rather rough game, and each poured in 21 points on 16 shots. Lin was actually more accurate and had 1 fewer turnover (2 for Lin, 3 for Harden), but Harden flirted with a triple double, pulling down 10 boards and picking up another 8 assist game. Harden also notched 3 steals, but it was all for naught. The Warriors had shut down the rest of the team with the exception of a small streak of shots from Delfino.
Delfino ended with 12 points, 9 of which came in a few possessions as he drilled back to back threes (his only threes on the night) and then laid it in for a 2 and 1. Delfino’s success there about the only help Lin and Harden got from the rest of the team, with Asik putting up a lackluster 11 rebound, 6 point night, Parsons shooting a mere 15% from the field, and Motiejunas missing all of his threes. Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks, Thomas Robinson and James Anderson combined to go 0-10 from the field for 0 points, 9 rebounds and a single assist. Greg Smith’s 5 points and 6 rebounds in 17 minutes looks amazing by comparison.
The Rockets seem to have been regressing lately, and the Rockets seem to be having increasing difficulty at the start of games. While their comebacks have been impressive, they simply can’t continue down this path if they hope to make the playoffs. Despite having already exceeded most pundits’ win predictions before the season started, the Rockets absolutely have to avoid another late collapse. After having improved their offense every month for four months, they look ready to regress in March. They can’t score 10 points in a quarter. Not in the middle of a vicious playoff hunt. Ten points aren’t enough.