On a Monday night that will probably be remembered by Rockets fans more for the trip home from the game in historic flooding than the actual game itself, the Rockets showed that they actually do have some semblance of pride, beating the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals 128-115 and staving off elimination.
The Rockets got out fast, shooting over 70 percent in the first quarter, and then riding a combination of odd momentum shifts after a Steph Curry "contusion" to his head on a nasty spill and James Harden's individual greatness (Why doesn't he just shoot the ball every time down the floor?) to the win.
So for all their blowout losses, and for every time we've buried this team under the blanket of "quitters," they've become only the second team in NBA history to win four consecutive elimination games by double digits in the same postseason. They're still down 3-1, but they have a pulse and a mathematical chance at history. In all likelihood, their season ends on Wednesday night. But they do actually play these games, which makes anything possible.
Last night we had winners and losers. Here they are….
4. James Harden
I don't know what to make of James Harden sometimes. Overall, his postseason numbers are a pretty close mirror of his regular season numbers, but it feels like he's had more trouble, at times, asserting himself in games this postseason, which would stand to some reason, considering these are better teams he's facing. In the Game 3 debacle, he seemed passive, timid and uninterested. Last night, he seemed engaged and energized. Is it as simple as James Harden seems more energized because his shots are going in? I have no idea. I just know that every single time the Rockets needed a big shot last night, Harden gave it to them. Multiple times in the third quarter, Golden State cut the lead to ten or less, and Harden responded three times with baskets. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors cut the lead to 102-95, and Harden responded with nine straight Rockets points to push the lead back to 111-98. Game over.
3. Josh Smith (most of the time)
Two games after going 5-17 from the field and nearly shooting the Rockets out of Game 2, Josh Smith was wildly efficient from the field on Monday night, going 7-8. (He still had 6 turnovers, but you take the bad with the good, I suppose.) In the Clippers series, Smith was an afterthought until Kevin McHale decided to put him in the starting lineup in Game 5, and he singlehandedly saved the Rockets' season in Game 6. Consider that the Rockets have a 9-7 record this postseason. Of their nine wins, six have had double-digit margins. Of their seven losses, five have been by double digits. This team is schizo. They've basically taken on the personality of Josh Smith. Scary.
2. Terrence Jones
There is no more harsh Jones critic than yours truly. There are so many exasperating things about his game, especially seeing as he appeared to be on the verge of stardom (when healthy) this season. Somewhere along the way, Jones got spooked into being a timid offensive player, routinely chucking up bad shots and getting swatted below the rim on attempts at the rim. On Monday, though, he was strong and solid. There were still the requisite few head scratchers, but he finished at the rim and even knocked down an open three.
1. 610 listeners
Because my co-hosts Ted Johnson and Rich Lord and I want the nice cars and the big houses and the beautiful ladies (oh, and the comp day!), the three of us decided to work on Memorial Day, in part because the Rockets would be coming off what we hoped would be an exciting, possibly victorious Game 3. Instead, they were coming off their worst outing of the playoffs, which is significant given the fact that they lost two games in the Clippers series by 25 and 33 points. So Rich decided to express his honest thoughts on Monday night's game and announced that he hoped the Rockets would lose so that they could be "put out of their misery." Yes, it was as odd a proclamation as it sounds like. So I use this paragraph to let all of you know that our phone number for the show is 713-572-4610 and we will be on the air at 2:01 p.m. this afternoon.
4. Dwight Howard's situational IQ
This has been a theme throughout the playoffs, going back to Matt Barnes calling him names and tweaking him every trip down the floor, but Dwight's short fuse and poor judgment on these types of plays have been really the only black mark on his playoff performance. (Well, that and his free throw percentage, but complaining about that at this point is like complaining about humidity in July.) The problem now for Dwight, after this swing on Andrew Bogut, is if the Flagrant 1 foul that was called in the game gets upgraded to a Flagrant 2 by the league, he'll be suspended for Game 5.
I don't know what to do to get Dwight to be less thin skinned. Stuff like this may have to baked into any global assessment of Dwight as a player and accepted as a trait as opposed to something he can work on. Fortunately, this side of Dwight Howard is balanced out by…..
3. People who didn't bring blankets and sleeping bags to Toyota Center
….this side of Dwight Howard….
The weather was, of course, brutal last night, with flooding all over town and hundreds of fans staying behind at Toyota Center to stay out of the biblical downpours that covered Houston overnight. Honestly, I was more amazed with how many people chose to leave Toyota Center than I was with the number of folks who opted to stay.
2. Bench shooting
This is more of a series-long "loser," but when Pablo Prigioni hit a three pointer with 2:30 left in the first quarter, it was the first three pointer from the Rockets bench in the series. That's incredible. Troy Daniels, wherefore art thou?
1. Steph Curry's cranium
In a game full of big plays by the Rockets (roughly 86.71 percent of them by James Harden), the play that put the biggest stamp on the game was Trevor Ariza's inadvertent back body drop of Steph Curry on a layup attempt in the second quarter….
Curry left the game looking like he'd just gone five rounds in the octagon, and after spending halftime and the early portion of the third quarter undergoing a battery of concussion tests, he returned to the game and promptly threw up an air ball and got rejected by Jones on a three point attempt. This prompted most of Twitter to eviscerate the Warrior medical staff for trotting a likely concussed Curry back out there….
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Oh, and there were WWE memes, too…...
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.