HOUSTON - A week ago we were not sure how the showdown with the Rockets and Warriors would turn out.
After four games, we now officially have a series as both teams get ready for Game 5 Wednesday night in Oakland with the series tied 2-2. It has now become a best-of-three series with Golden State hosting two games if a Game 7 is necessary.
Some sports analytsts say you really don't have a series until a team wins on the road, and so far that has yet to happen as the Rockets and Warriors have protected home court at Oracle Arena and Toyota Center through the first four games of the series.
Game 4 was huge for the Rockets, who held off a late surge by Golden State with a chance to tie after trailing by 13 points in the second half. Houston won with its small lineup of Chris Paul, James Harden and P.J. Tucker, along with hot shooting Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers, the latter of whom has been a huge boost.
Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni dubbed this group the South Beach 5 up against Golden State's battle-tested Hamptons 5. So far the little guys in red are holding their own against a Warriors team missing the big man presence that Demarcus Cousins brought before a quad injury sidelined him.
Houston has a shot with this lineup and a chance to knock out the two-time defending NBA champions, but it's all about Game 5. Teams that win Game 5 on the road have a more than 70 percent chance to win the series.
How can the Rockets steal Game 5? Here are three ways:
Tucker needs to keep his nasty chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. He doesn't shoot a lot, but when he does shoot threes in the corner he needs to knock them down. Defensively he needs to continue being physical and do the dirty work. That's Tucker's DNA on the floor and why D'Antoni is such a fan.
Defend the 3
The Rockets own the best three-point defense in the NBA and need more of that than ever in Game 5. Kevin Durant will get his points, so the Rockets need to D up on Klay Thompson and Steph Curry again. The Rockets did a nice job on Thompson in Game 4 (11 points on 5-15 FG) after he had a below average Game 3 (16 points on 6-16 FG). Together the Splash brothers are only 9-35 on three-point attempts in the two games at Toyota Center.
Wear the Warriors down
The Rockets' edge over the Warriors is on the bench. Golden State is very thin, so their starters are logging major minutes, not only in this series but also in Round 1 in the seven-game marathon with the Clippers. Houston has had nice contributions from Austin Rivers after he missed Game 1 with the flu. Rivers has hit eight of 15 three-pointers and 12 of 24 FGs, adding 14 points in Game 3 and 10 points in the Game 4 win. The Rockets could use more pop from Gerald Green and Iman Shumpert, as well as from NeNe when he spells Clint Capela.
These two teams know each other so well that there are no secrets. Every night is a three-point parade for both sides.
In case you are wondering how they are doing from long distance after four games, here's the breakdown:
DIALING UP FROM DISTANCE: 3-POINT SHOOTING THROUGH 4 GAMES:
ROCKETS GAME WARRIORS
14/47 1 7/22
17/40 2 11/36
18/42 3 14/33
17/50 4 8/33
Now it's time for the Rockets to clear the final hurdle that's eluded them in the past. Last year's Games 6 and 7 losses to the Warriors still sting. The Rockets, and especially Paul, need to prove they are the team that can dethrone the champs. They need to play hard the full 48 minutes and not take any plays off. Give the Warriors any window and they will hurt you and make it look easy. The Warriors have banners hanging inside of Oracle Arena for a reason.
In Game 5, I'm going with the Rockets by six despite the fact that Golden State is 22-3 in their last 25 home playoff games at Oracle. Houston will earn a 3-2 series lead and bring it home with a chance to close it out in front of the Rockets' fans Friday night. The odds say it will not happen, so let's allow these two NBA heavyweights to settle it on the floor.
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