OAKLAND -- Where do the Houston Rockets go from here? Down 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors, the dysfunction of this team is apparent both on and off the floor. Can they salvage a win at home and make this more than a four-game sweep?
The Rockets were upbeat following Monday night’s loss. Almost to a man they claimed they were fine and the series wasn’t over just yet.
“Confident, very confident, confident,” Patrick Beverley expounded when asked where his team was mentally. “Every game confident. Wake up confident. We think we can shock the world. Down 0-2, we’ve been here before last year.”
The Rockets dropped the first three games to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last season, before picking up their only win of the series in Game 4. But this is a different Warriors team. They are reigning champions and they just finished a historic 73-win season.
On Monday night, the Warriors went to battle without the league’s MVP, Stephen Curry, who missed the game due to an ankle issue. Without the NBA’s leading scorer, they still managed to come away with a 115-106 victory.
“We played a little bit better today, we just didn’t do enough to get a win,” James Harden said following the game. “We gave them too many offensive rebounds to a really good 3-point shooting team and we turned the basketball over way too many times.
“With Curry playing or without him playing, we still have to do those things in order to give yourself a chance to win."
Harden bounced back from a sub-par Game 1 to score a team-high 28 points, but he was off with his shot yet again. He finished 7-of-19 from the field and he hit just 1-of-8 from long range.
With his shot off target, Harden turned to what he does best - draw fouls. He hit 13-of-15 from the line, but it wasn’t nearly enough to get the win.
On the defensive end, Harden was a sieve. On multiple occasions he stood flat-footed while his opponent rolled baseline on him for either a layup or a dunk. His reaction may have been even worse than his effort.
Almost every time he was taken off the dribble, Harden would point at big man Dwight Howard and have words. Clearly he expected the former Defensive Player of the Year to cover his inadequacies as a defender.
“We weren’t jawing at each other, it was just emotion,” Howard said. “We weren’t saying anything to each other. It might have looked like that, but we both want to win. It’s emotional because we’re playing basketball and we’re trying not to go home. It wasn’t nothing bad.”
The disconnect was so obvious that coach J.B. Bickerstaff was asked by a reporter during the postgame interview if he would have a conversation with Howard, because it seemed like he was disinterested.
“I wouldn’t say he was disinterested, I thought he gave effort,” J.B. Bickerstaff said. “I thought he played hard. When he got around the basket, he was efficient. I wouldn’t say he was disinterested at all.”
The fractures can be seen in this team. It’s not the same group that won 56 games in the 2014-15 season. In fact, they needed a win on the last game of the season to squeak into the playoffs and now they are paying for their inconsistent .500 season.
Is it over for the Rockets? You never know. They return home to a city that has been hit hard by flooding over the last few days. And it’s very likely they will face a Warriors team at full strength.
“We’ve got to protect our home,” Howard said. “They did a good job of doing what they were supposed to do, now we’ve got to return the favor.”
The Rockets will have to shake off the two games they dropped at Oracle Arena and find the missing ingredient that made them so good a year ago. They haven’t been on the same page for much of the season and now they are faced with finding themselves against the best the NBA has to offer.