The Rockets stuck to their 'guns' in a crucial game and pulled out the most impressive win over the Warriors in 2 years

Ezra Shaw/Getty

  • The Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday to even the series at 2-2.
  • To capture the win, which required two comebacks from double-digit deficits, the Rockets played just seven players, matching the Warriors “guns” with their own, as head coach Mike D’Antoni said.
  • The win may be the most impressive in the Kevin Durant-era in Golden State, as the Rockets withstood big punches from the Warriors and had given themselves a chance to win the series.

The Houston Rockets on Tuesday signalled the first real test the Golden State Warriors have faced since signing Kevin Durant in 2016.

The Rockets beat the Warriors, 95-92, in Game 4 to even the series at 2-2 as they return to Houston for a Game 5, and depending on how the next two games shake out, a potential Game 7.

The Rockets’ win was impressive in almost every regard. They withstood two Warriors’ avalanches – a 12-0 run to begin the game and a 34-point third quarter that featured a Stephen Curry eruption. They held the Warriors to just 12 points in the fourth quarter, with only three field goals. It was the first time an opponent has beaten the Warriors on their home floor in the playoffs since the Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, and that Warriors team didn’t have Durant.

To handle the Warriors, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, famous for keeping a short rotation, went with just seven players throughout the game. The Rockets are a deep team, with players sitting on the bench that other teams would likely utilise.

D’Antoni, however, played his starting lineup of Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela, and used only two substitutes, Eric Gordon and Gerald Green. And Green only played 11 minutes and 44 seconds.

In essence, D’Antoni turned to his six best players, and when the Warriors played Capela, a traditional big man, off the floor, it meant going super-small, with the 6-foot-6 Tucker at center for long stretches.

Tucker, who played a game-high 44 minutes and grabbed an impressive 16 rebounds while playing under-sized, said D’Antoni told him he had to stick with his “guns.”

“It’s that kind of series,” Tucker said after the game. “I came out for 30 seconds, and I went right back in. Coach told me, ‘They’re going with their guns, so we gotta match guns with guns.'”

The Warriors mainly went with an eight-man rotation – the ninth, guard Quinn Cook, played just two minutes – with Durant and Draymond Green both logging over 40 minutes.However, it was Warriors coach Steve Kerr who said he thought his team ran out of energy, saying the Rockets earned the win.

That the Rockets withstood the Warriors’ punches and came out on top might be the most impressive feat of the Durant-era in Golden State. Before this series, the Warriors had only lost three playoff games since acquiring Durant. None of their prior opponents ever really threatened them. The Cavaliers may have come close in last year’s playoffs, but blew a lead in the final moments of Game 3, practically ensuring the Warriors would win the championship.

The Rockets may still face an uphill battle. The Warriors are never underdogs; they have proven they can win in Houston and they tend to play better with their backs against the wall, something Kerr has acknowledged about his team.

But the Rockets have also given themselves as good of a chance as anyone could hope. They have to win two games to accomplish what many thought was impossible, and they get at least one chance at home to do it. For perhaps the first time in two years, a team has the Warriors’ full attention, and that alone is a feat.

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