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Golden State Warriors 115, Houston Rockets 128: I Hope You Enjoyed This One

Jalen Rose is fond of saying, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

Well, the Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets four times on their way to winning 67 games this season. And of the 16 teams before them to win 65+ games, only LeBron’s ’09 Cavaliers, Dirk’s ’07 Mavericks and the post-Russell ’73 Celtics failed to win the title that year. Golden State was also 39-2 at home in the regular season. Only the Spurs, Bulls and Grizzlies (in Round 2) have managed to beat the Warriors at home so far this season.

Numbers like that make you wonder if the Rockets ever really stood much of a chance. 

But after coming up short in the first two games, and then failing spectacularly in the third, the Rockets finally broke through and beat the Warriors last night.  Some will say that it was a trap game for the Warriors: up 3-0 on the road after a 35-point win, knowing Game 5 is at vaunted Oracle Arena. And they’d be right; it was a total trap game.

But so what. Houston avoided the sweep, and James Harden got to exact some revenge after coughing up Game 2 in Oakland.

Remember when there was a time when people were trying to make James Harden vs Klay Thompson into a thing when talking about the best shooting guard in the league? They would qualify it by using terms like “two-way player” and show funny gif’s of Harden not playing defense. So it was fun thinking about all those naysayers biting their tongues when Harden nearly had back-to-back triple-doubles in the first two games of the series with Thompson as his primary defender. Meanwhile, Thompson was working so hard chasing Harden around that he was shooting 37% from the field and only 18% from deep. Splash Brother indeed.

Harden worked over Thompson so well that Warriors coach Steve Kerr was forced to try Harrison Barnes on Harden. It worked in Game 3, but last night it did not. Harden bounced back from his dreadful Game 3 with perhaps his best game of the postseason. And I do realize that I said that exact phrase just two games ago when I wrote about Game 2, but what else would you call a line of 45 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks? He scored as only he can when he’s rolling: 13-22 from the field (59%), 7-11 from deep (67%) and 12-13 from the stripe (92%).

But it wasn’t just the numbers. The Warriors would not go away last night and every time they fought back to make things uncomfortable, Harden responded, usually with a dagger three. In fact, Harden was so good from deep that even a full-court two-handed heave hit nothing but net.

Thompson did play better when not chasing Harden around, scoring 24 points on 6-13 shooting from three.  He was forced to carry the load for a stretch because of the terrible fall Steph Curry had while trying to block a Trevor Ariza layup. Curry landed hard on the back of his neck and it was called a “head contusion” because team doctors will do ANYTHING to not say the word “concussion”. Curry missed the last five minutes of the first half and most of the third quarter, but played about the same after the injury as he did in the first half.  He finished with 23 points and 4 assists.

The Rockets started the game on fire and scored 45 points in the first quarter, thanks in large part to Josh Smith.  Smith shot 5-5 in the opening period, including a couple of pull-up threes in transition. He finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks. He was easily the second-best Rocket, but the dreaded Hack-A-Shaq that Kerr used in the fourth quarter marred his performance. He shot only 3-12 from the free throw line, and forced McHale to pull him down the stretch.

Dwight Howard (14 pts, 12 reb, 2 stl & 2 blk) played well and really frustrated Andrew Bogut, holding the big Aussie to 0 points and just 8 rebounds.  But while fighting for a loose ball in the third quarter, Bogut shoved Howard in the back and Howard responded with a forearm to his face. Howard was assessed a Flagrant 1, and some are wondering if it might be upgraded by the league to a Flagrant 2, in which case Howard would have to miss Game 5.  I think it could go either way, but Adam Silver is pretty level-headed and surely knows that this is what Bogut does to people. I think he’ll let Howard keep playing, like he did for Russell Westbrook in the last game of the season.

Three other Rockets scored in double figures, led by Trevor Ariza’s 17. Terrence Jones (14 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast & 2 blk) played well, but let Draymond Green bully him at times. Jason Terry missed too many open threes but ended up with 10 points, 6 boards and 4 assists.

So now the series heads back to California. You all know the stat, no team has ever come back from down 0-3 to win a seven game series in NBA history. 0-116 so far. And these Warriors really seem to have Houston’s number, last night not withstanding. So prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. This may very well have been the last win fans of the Rockets get to see this season.

On the other hand, this series isn’t 3-0 anymore. It’s 3-1 now, and these Rockets know what it takes to come back from 3-1.  But any potential comeback won’t be against a tired, fragile Clippers team. It will be against a 67-win 1-seed.  However, figure out how to win Game 5 in Oakland on Wednesday, and then Game 6 is back in Houston.  Get through that, and it’s as they say, “Anything can happen in Game 7”.

But Clutch City will have to get through Game 5 first.

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Golden State Warriors 115, Houston Rockets 80: So, that just happened.