OAKLAND -- Houston is in trouble. It’s not just the fact the Rockets have no answer for Stephen Curry, the rest of the league is struggling with the same issue. Be its discipline or effort or a combination of many other issues, the Rockets didn’t look ready to compete when they took the floor Saturday afternoon.
Moving screens, offensive fouls, and chippy play marred an otherwise uneventful blowout at Oracle Arena. If this was the best Houston has to offer, this series is over in four games.
Rockets leading scorer James Harden struggled mightily in the first half. It’s hard to compete when your first option shoots 2-of-9 from the field through the first 24 minutes and manages to score just four points. It also didn’t help that he turned the ball over four times and committed four fouls before the teams could get back into the locker room for the intermission.
“I missed a couple of easy bunnies,” Harden said following the loss. “We really didn’t have a lot of movement offensively. It kind of stagnated out offense, we didn’t get a lot of open shots like we usually do. We’ve just got to be better than that in Game 2.”
The NBA’s second-leading scorer bounced back to score 13 of his team-high 17 points in the third quarter as Houston made a run. But his lackluster performance early set the tone for a team that barely squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season after going to the Western Conference Finals the year before.
Not only did Harden struggle from the floor, hitting just 7-of-19 from the field, but he failed to shoot a single free throw in 32 minutes of action. Harden led the league in both free throw attempts (10.2 per game) and free throw makes (8.8 per game) during the regular season.
“They’re setting up to stop him from dragging right now,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said following the game. “They do a good job. Their four men just flood the paint on his penetration. They put two or three guys on him.”
Harden wasn’t the only one to put forth a sub-par performance for Houston. The Rockets were counting on point guard Patrick Beverley to slow Curry, but the defensive-minded vet may have misunderstood the assignment. Beverley tried to bully Curry, even mixing it up early with the Warriors star guard.
“It’s part of the game,” Beverley said. “I went for a steal, we got tangled up - whatever.”
The tactic didn’t work. Curry fed off the altercation, dropping in 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting in just 20 minutes of action.
“You have to be physical, period,” Bickerstaff said. “If you’re going to defend anyone, if you’re going to stop anyone, you’ve got to be physical. All the great defenses are. There’s never been a good finesse defense.”
Curry wasn’t the only one to get energized by the dust up between he and Beverley. Golden State’s fans let the Rockets guard have it for the rest of the game. Every time he dribbled or passed a ball, the crowd showered him with a chorus of boos.
“I try to play hard every day, I’m not trying to get under anyone’s skin,” Beverley said. “If that’s how they feel, that’s how they feel. I can’t help that.”
The veteran guard might be the key to any hope the Rockets have of pulling off a first-round upset, but he appeared completely overwhelmed by the situation. Beverley finished the afternoon with two points on 1-of-7 shooting, three assists, four personal fouls and a technical foul in 20 minutes of action.
Houston shot just 35.7 percent (30-for-84) from the field and 27.3 percent (6-of-22) from long range. They turned the ball over 24 times leading to 33 points for the Warriors and they never held a lead.