The Houston Rockets suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Warriors escaped with a 99-98 victory after James Harden was unable to get the potential game-winning shot off at the buzzer on the final possessions.
Prior to that, the Rockets mounted an improbable comeback in the final minute, giving themselves a golden opportunity to tie the series at 1-1 going back to Houston for Games 3 and 4.
In the final 90 seconds, Harden carried the Rockets, scoring six points to cut the Warriors lead to 99-96. With 48 seconds to go, the Warriors were bringing the ball up the court when Houston set a beautiful trap in the backcourt. Stephen Curry nearly turned it over, and when he recovered and tried to advance the ball, the Warriors had committed an eight-second violation, resulting in a turnover and giving the Rockets the ball back with 40 seconds to go.
On the next Rockets possession, Harden drove and made a beautiful lob to Dwight Howard for the dunk to cut the lead 99-98 with 33 seconds left.
With the lead cut to one, the Warriors ran an out-of-control possession. Curry got the switch he wanted on Dwight Howard, but was forced to give it up when he was double teamed. Andre Iguodala nearly turned the ball over, and when Harrison Barnes picked it up, made a nice drive to the basket. A great recovery from Howard forced Barnes into the tough reverse layup attempt, which he missed. The Rockets got the ball back with 9 seconds left and a chance to win the game:
Harden stormed up the court, and naturally, with his 38 points on the night, was going to go for the game-winner himself. It didn’t work out that way.
Curry and Klay Thompson set a terrific double-team on Harden. Harden passed up a shot, gave up the ball, and when he got it back, he couldn’t even get off a shot, thanks to the swarm of arms from Curry and Thompson. Warriors win.
When Harden grabbed the rebound on the Warriors miss, there was over eight seconds remaining. Houston could have called timeout, advanced the ball, and set up a proper play. However, Harden didn’t call timeout, which was an understandable move. When he grabbed the ball, the Warriors were out of sorts, giving the Rockets an advantage. Barnes and Draymond Green were not in position to get back on defence right away.
Houston’s transition floor balance was poor on the final possession. Despite being double-teamed by Curry and Thompson, Harden actually created space on a step-back dribble, but Trevor Ariza was right behind him. Harden could have conceivably taken the shot if Ariza, and thus his defender, Barnes, weren’t right behind him:
Barnes probably could have blocked his shot had Harden attempted it:
Harden was well within his right to keep the ball for the final shot — he had carried Houston’s offence all game. However, he may regret not giving the ball up to Terrence Jones flashing down the lane with 4.1 seconds left. That could have been the game-winning layup:
After picking up his dribble and essentially being triple-teamed by Curry, Thompson, and Barnes, Harden gave it up to Howard. Again, Houston’s poor floor-spacing killed them. Howard can’t shoot jumpers and has almost no moves off the dribble. He couldn’t have even made a quick pass to any teammates because they were crowded around the basket. He ended up, justifiably, giving it right back to Harden, even though Harden was in no position to do anything:
When Howard gave the ball back to Harden, he was swarmed. He lost the ball, the clocked expired, and the Warriors took a 2-0 series lead:
The big question after the game was whether the Rockets should have used that final timeout. Rockets coach Kevin McHale told reporters that he wouldn’t have wanted a timeout, noting that the Rockets had an advantage at that moment when two Warriors players had fallen down and out of bounds:
“No, when we got the rebound, someone fell down for him, I’m not sure who, and someone was out of bounds for them. I could drop a lot of plays and it wasn’t going to be one guy laying on his back and one guy out of bounds so I just let him go. We’ll take our best player coming downhill. He’s a great downhill player… if we had a time‑out, could have probably called it with about two, two‑and‑a‑half. But when I glanced up and I saw two guys behind the play, there’s just no way I was going to call a time‑out at that point, and I don’t know who fell down, but one of the guys had fallen down on the right side of the court, and I think Barnes missed the reverse and he was out of bounds. I figured if nothing else, we had a four on three.”
Houston now trails Golden State 2-0. The Rockets could look at this two ways. On the positive side, they have been in position to win Games 1 and 2 and came up just short. They could take two games in Houston with the crowd behind them and tie up the series. On the negative side, they have thrown their best punches at the Warriors in Games 1 and 2 and still couldn’t come up with the win.
After blowing this golden opportunity, Game 3 becomes a must-win for the Rockets. Falling down 3-0 to the Warriors likely spells doom for the Rockets.
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