The Houston Rockets ramped up the intensity on Wednesday, powering past the NBA champion Golden State Warriors 127-105 to level their Western Conference finals series at one game apiece.
Houston’s Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden scored 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Eric Gordon added 27 off the bench as five players scored in double figures for a Rockets team chastened by a 119-106 series-opening defeat on their home floor on Monday.
“Total team effort,” Harden said. “We played harder and smarter than game one. That was the only difference.”
The Rockets signalled their intentions early. Their seven fast-break points in the opening quarter more than doubled the three they mustered in all of game one. Houston connected on three-of-10 from three-point range in the first period while the Warriors were zero-for-seven and coughed up seven turnovers.
Up 26-21 after one quarter, the Rockets wouldn’t trail from there. They led 64-50 by halftime, with four players already in double figures as they stepped up the pace and tightened the defensive screws.
“Everything was fueled off our defense,” Gordon said. “We hit the open man at the right time and guys were knocking down shots and when we play that way it’s just a fun game.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said there was no major change in strategy -- just more intensity and better execution from a Houston team that led the league with 65 regular-season wins. “I don’t want to be cantankerous,” D’Antoni said. “You have one of the best offenses of all time, at least, with Golden State and we’re trying to prove we’re up there with them. You’re not going to come in and change the way you play.
“We are who we are. We just did it better and longer.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the Rockets’ energy made all the difference. “I just think this game was a matter of the Rockets bringing the force that’s necessary to win a game and we didn’t,” Kerr said.
“We had seven turnovers in the first quarter. We set the tone early with our own play and allowed them to get some confidence and some easy buckets in transition.
“But give them the credit they came out and played a great game. They got everybody going. We got what we deserved. They kicked our butts, no other way to say it.”
Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 38 points, but Stephen Curry was the only other Golden State player in double figures with 16. Klay Thompson scored just eight points, Draymond Green six and Andre Iguodala five. Curry connected on seven of 19 shots from the floor, making just one of eight three-point attempts in what he called a “frustrating night.”
Overall the Warriors were just nine of 30 from three-point range. They finished the game with 15 turnovers - 11 of those coming before halftime, by when most of the damage was done.
PJ Tucker, who scored just one point in game one, scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half for Houston. Trevor Ariza, another who struggled in game one, added 19 points and Chris Paul scored 16 for the Rockets. “Defensively we were more aggressive. We were smarter,” said Harden, whose Rockets travel to Oakland for game three on Sunday with renewed confidence.
“We still made some mistakes that we can get better at,” Harden said. “We know how tough it is to win (at Golden State) but we’re ready for it.”
The winners of the series will face either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference finals 2-0.
“For us right now the most important game is game three,” Paul said.
“That’s a tough environment to play in there. But we are who we are and we’ll be ready.”
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