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5 keys to Game 4 of Rockets vs. Warriors playoff series

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OAKLAND, Calif. – This trip to the Bay Area has not gone well for the Houston Rockets who got a taste of just how good the Golden State Warriors are at Oracle Arena in the playoffs.  

The Warriors have reeled off an impressive run, setting an NBA record by winning 16 straight home playoff games. The 16th on Sunday was in convincing style as they blew out the Rockets by 41 points.   That deficit set a new Rockets record for the worst playoff loss in franchise history.

Will 48 hours make a difference? Do the Rockets have enough firepower to really hang with the Warriors? They believe so, and James Harden told reporters Monday at practice in San Francisco that he and his teammates don’t lack confidence. They believe, just like in Game 2, that they can bounce back in a big way and even the series.

So what will it take?

Energy

When the Rockets bring their A-game, they bring the energy to the floor from the opening tip to the end of the game. This is a night they need to bring it all. They have to because their season is on the line. Win and it’s even 2-2. Lose and they will be looking at a 3-1 deficit.  Against a team like the Warriors that means your season is basically over.

Points in the paint

The Rockets were terrible in the paint in Game 3 -- shot after shot, layup after missed layup. That came back to bite them in the blowout loss. Credit Golden State’s defense as they had the Rockets rattled for much of the night.

Inside the paint, they dominated against anyone driving and swatted away seven shots on the night. Clint Capela needs to have a big night in Oakland, and something tells me he will be ready to roll coming off of his 13-point, 8-rebound effort in the Game 3 loss.

Harden, Paul and who else?

James Harden finished with 20 points on 7-16 shooting.  Harden also was off from distance, hitting only two three-pointers on six attempts from beyond the arc. That has to change Tuesday night in Game 4.   The Rockets need production from Harden, as well as Paul, who was held to only 13 points and a mere four assists.

Paul is the floor general and it’s his job to get the spark in this offense going early in Oakland.  Many in the media believe Paul is ailing with an Achilles and calf issue, although he denied that again Monday at practice.

In Game 2, the stars were Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker who combined for 49 points.  In Game 3, the duo combined for only 17 points. Trevor Ariza also was only 2-6 in FG attempts in the Game 3 loss and was held to only six points.

Together, the Rockets need this trio to deliver Tuesday night on the offensive and defensive end.

Avoid the Warriors run

Easier said than done in slowing down the Warriors when they hit their groove. In Game 3, we saw spurts in the first half and then the explosion came in the 3rd quarter led by Steph Curry who scored 18 of his 35 points in the 3rd to turn the game into a blowout.

When the Warriors are at their best, they create turnovers and get their transition game going which leads to quick spurts that can turn a game around. Their 13-4 run in the third was one of several runs that left the Rockets in the dust. Curry led the charge after his slow start and now has regained his mojo. Look out in Game 4.

The one area to watch at game time, or maybe before, is the status of Warriors forward Andre Iguodala who is listed as doubtful for tonight’s Game 4 with a sore knee after colliding with James Harden on Sunday. His MRI came back clear and if he responds today he could be upgraded. Iguodala averages 28 minutes a game and is a factor on both ends. The Warriors without Iguodala can open things up for the Rockets.

Coaching

Mike D’Antoni said Monday that the pressure in Game 4 is actually on the Warriors and not the Rockets. He’s probably right because a Warriors loss evens the series and turns it into a best of three with the Rockets hosting Game 5 and possibly a Game 7.

For Golden State’s Steve Kerr this is not his first rodeo and same goes for his players. They are peaking at the right time and know what it takes to get to the finals. The edge goes to Kerr but D’Antoni is a winner. It’s about adjustments and the star players doing what they do best. 

Now it’s time to play the game and for the Rockets get a win to even the series and bring it back to Houston for Thursday’s Game 5 with a chance to take the series lead.  A loss tonight and the Warriors are one win from a return to the NBA Finals.

Which Rockets team will show up for Game 4? We will find out at 8 p.m.