OAKLAND -– Considering his dominant season, and how strongly he was performing in Game 2, the Rockets had the ball in the right guy’s hands with time winding down.
Trailing 99-98 after a Harrison Barnes miss with eight seconds to go, James Harden charged up the court looking to even Houston’s series with the Warriors. Instead of being the hero, though, Harden somewhat strangely gave the ball to Dwight Howard near the top of the arc, got it back, but was aggressively double-teamed by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson before he could get off a shot.
Time expired, and a distraught Harden, who had a game-high 38 points, took a few moments to get to his feet. Cameras caught him battling down a pipe-and-drape setup as he padded dejectedly into the visiting locker room.
The Warriors now lead Harden's Rockets 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals.
[Instant Replay: Warriors survive Rockets, take Game 2]
“I’m thinking, just try to get the easy one,” Harden said of the final sequence. “They did a good job of having two guys on me so I couldn’t attack, and when I looked up I saw Dwight so I tried to throw it back to him. At that time I’m thinking, five seconds on the clock, so I tried to get the ball back and it was still two guys right there. … Just a tough, tough play.”
Kevin McHale said: “I will take our best player coming downhill in a broken court any day of the week to win the game. That's where James feasts, and you know, that's where he's at his best.”
Despite the play not working out, no Rockets expressed any regret with the call, or that McHale decided not to call a timeout.
“We had the ball in our best player’s hands,” Josh Smith said. “The way the rhythm was going I’m not mad at coach not calling a timeout. We thought we had an opportunity to fast break, but it closed up quick.”
The Rockets battled back from an early deficit, which was a role reversal from Game 1, when they were the ones who surrendered the early double-digit edge. Golden State led 49-33 in the second quarter, but the game was knotted at 55 by halftime.
Jones said: “I think both teams make really good runs. It’s all about who gets the last one.”
Neither team was able to find much separation in the second half. Harden paced the Rockets and Dwight Howard dropped 19 points and added 17 rebounds, but the remaining Rockets were just 18-for-52 (34.6 percent).
They did force 17 turnovers, though, leading to 24 points. After giving up 36 first quarter points the Rockets held the Warriors to just 63 the rest of the way.
“We fought hard all game,” Jones said. “It was just one of those ones we came up short.”
The Rockets will try to answer at home in games three and four on Saturday and Monday, after two hard fought but disheartening losses at Oracle Arena. Houston was 30-11 at Toyota Center in the regular season and is 6-1 there in the postseason.
“We are not a team that loses confidence,” said Trevor Ariza, who had just seven points. “We are a very confident team. They did what they needed to do here at home, and now it is time for us to go home and do what we need to do.”
“We made mistakes that we can correct,” McHale said. “I thought that we didn't quit. We just battled back. On the road in the Western Conference Finals, you have a chance to win it, you'll take that.”