P.J. Tucker had a playoff career high 22 points for the Rockets.
P.J. Tucker had a playoff career high 22 points for the Rockets.
Photo by Eric Sauceda

Rockets Crush Warriors to Even Series 1-1: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

In what felt like a complete reverse of game one, the Rockets blew out the Golden State Warriors 127-105 in game two of the Western Conference Finals Wednesday night evening the series 1-1 as the teams prepare for game three in Oakland on Sunday. The Rockets led went up by double digits in the second quarter and the Warriors never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.

P.J. Tucker had a playoff career high 22 points and Eric Gordon emerged from his playoffs-long offensive coma for 27 points including 6-9 from three. The series now moves to the Bay Area on Sunday where the Warriors hope to regain home court advantage.

Losers:

4. Steph Curry

Curry may never be on this list again, but he has struggled in these first two games. He had 16 points but on only 7-19 shooting including 1-8 from three. Defensively, he has been picked on repeatedly by the Rockets perimeter players. It almost seems like he isn't 100 percent after missing the entire first round with an injury. Whatever the case, Curry hasn't been very good thus far, but that could change.

3. Chris Paul's lower leg.

Speaking of injuries, Paul began limping in the second half and spent a good portion of the fourth quarter on the bench with his lower right leg wrapped and iced. Even with the injury, he had 16 points and 6 assists in 33 minutes. With nearly four full days before their next game, he will have plenty of time to rest and get treatment. They are going to need him.

2. Rest

Both the Rockets and Warriors, save the garbage time minutes at the end of the fourth when the game was essentially over, leaned heavily on a very short rotation. Only five guys played more than 20 minutes for the Warriors, six for the Rockets. In fact, the Rockets only had seven guys who played more than 10 minutes. With the four days off looming, neither team was worried about wearing guys out.

1. Misunderstanding the ISO offense.

The tired narrative of Rockets isolation basketball continued unabated on broadcast TV and social media Wednesday night. The idea that the Rockets played the way they did in game one for the entire series, dribbling the shot clock out and not moving the ball, is of course ridiculous. But, it didn't stop guys from raving about how differently the Rockets played on Wednesday. They did, but it was less about style than energy. More on that in a moment.

Winners:

4. Shooters

It sure helps when the shots are falling. On Wednesday, the Rockets hit 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three. Gordon and Tucker were an unreal 11-15 from beyond the arc. When shots are falling, everything seems better and the Rockets shots were falling from everywhere.

3. Kevin Durant

At one point in the third quarter, I posed the question on Twitter, "Seriously, can anyone defend Durant? Not just the Rockets but literally anyone." Durant has been sensational thus far in this series. On Wednesday, he had 38 points on 13-22 shooting. The Rockets just don't have anyone who can guard him one-on-one. Fortunately, he was about all the Warriors had on Wednesday night.

2. Role players.

The Rockets have relied on role players all season long, but they have been hit and miss throughout the playoffs. On Wednesday, Tucker, Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green provided robust contributions and not just offensively. Their energy and defense was a huge part of the win. If they can continue to play with aggression and shoot well, they will put a ton of pressure on the Warriors whose role players aren't quite as good or as plentiful.

1. Aggressiveness

If there was one thing the Rockets did differently in game two from game one, it was play with aggression and energy. Defensively, they were all over the floor, forcing seven turnovers in the first quarter alone. Offensively, they went to the basket over and over, refusing to settle for contested shots with the shot clock winding down. This is what they did to win 65 games and two previous postseason series. This is what they most need to do to get ahead in the series on Sunday.

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