James Harden and the Houston Rockets nearly handed the Golden State Warriors only their eighth home loss of the regular season and playoffs combined, and the MVP runner-up believes his team can repeat their excellent play in the narrow 110-106 Game 1 loss of the Western Conference Finals.
“We have to have the same mindset we had in Game 1 – limit their runs, limit our turnovers,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle. “I think we did a good job of controlling the ball but they had two runs at the end of the second and end of the fourth – we take that out of the game and we will be all right.”
Houston managed to hang with the Warriors on their home floor and nearly stole the game behind Harden’s near triple-double of 28 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists, and 37 combined points from forwards Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza and their 6-for-11 shooting from three-point range.
The Rockets will try to tie the series in Game 2 Thursday night at Oracle Arena before it heads back to Houston for Games 3 and 4.
But avoiding a 0-2 hole became all the more difficult after center Dwight Howard went down with a sprained left knee in Game 1. Tallying seven points and 13 rebounds while protecting the basket from Golden State point guard Stephen Curry’s drives over 26 minutes, Howard was listed as questionable for Game 2 by the team.
As the one player Golden State really can’t matchup against, Howard’s averaged 16.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 13 games during these playoffs. He also missed half the regular season with a knee injury.
If Howard is limited or even sits out, Houston head coach Kevin McHale will likely give more minutes to forward Terrence Jones and reserve center Clint Capela. Jones netted five points, four rebounds, and a block in Game 1, but his production against the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round could be enough to spell the Rockets woes until Howard heals up.
Jones averaged 10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds against a loaded Clippers frontline, and doesn’t face nearly as much size against the Warriors.
Capela, a rookie, put up nine points and four rebounds with a block and a steal in 13 minutes off the bench, his most in the post season since Game 1 against Dallas in the first round.
Curry and the Warriors were largely firing on all cylinders in Game 1, with the MVP pouring in 34 points and nailing six of 11 three-pointers. And small forward Draymond Green provided the energy and an almost-triple-double of his own with 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists with two steals.
Back-up point guard Shaun Livingston played a huge role off the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes, exposing the Rockets depth at guard in veterans Pablo Prigioni and Jason Terry.
Curry did face the ire of the NBA with a $5,000 fine for flopping after firing a three-pointer with a little over three minutes left in the game. Both Curry and Golden State head coach Steve Kerr disagreed with the NBA’s assessment and fine.
"I don't agree with it," Curry said according CBS Sports. "I watched the play over, and it was a transition play, so obviously balance is not very good in that situation. I take a little contact, got some space off. I didn't even see, whoever it was, I didn't see him, and then when I shoot it, I see somebody coming and hit me in my arm. And when you're up in the air, it was obviously a reaction to that. That play happens countless times.
"I wasn't even looking for a foul. I just reacted to the contract that was on my arm and what have you. So I don't agree with it at all."
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: A live stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Warriors -10; o/v 220 points
Prediction: Warriors over Rockets, 120-115