Rockets not good enough, fall behind 2-0 to Stephen Curry-less Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. -- So, you actually thought the Houston Rockets would beat the Golden State Warriors without Stephen Curry?

On New Year’s Eve, with Curry at home along with Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Harrison Barnes, the Warriors defeated the Rockets by just four points.

In Game 2 of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, nothing changed from December as Golden State took control of this series with a 115-106 win on Monday night with Curry sitting behind the bench nursing a sprained right ankle.

The series moves to Houston with the Rockets down two games, and it’s clear this team just isn’t good enough to win a series like this.

“I think we were a little bit passive on the defensive end at some points and they use those kinds of stretches real good,” Donatas Motiejunas said. “I think that was one of the most important reasons why they went on a couple of runs.”

Houston made a lineup switch, inserting Motiejunas into the starting lineup for Game 2. He finished with just seven points while missing seven of 10 shots.

Josh Smith was a bright spot off the bench, hitting his first three 3s in the first quarter, but he sat for a long stretch and never found a rhythm again. Smith scored nine points in 18 minutes and deserved more time, but interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff played Michael Beasley (a solid 10 points in 11 minutes) and went back to Motiejunas (15 minutes) at power forward.

The two stars of the Rockets, James Harden and Dwight Howard, had uneven performances.

Harden made it to the foul line after not attempting any free throws in Game 1. He went to the line 13 times in the first half but shot only two free throws in the second half.

“I always try to get a bucket whenever I need to,” Harden said, “Just get a bucket or make the right play at all times. Sometimes you’re shooting a dozen, sometimes you’re not.”

Howard fouled out with 4:13 remaining, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and was minus-22 in the box score.

Howard and Harden look like a married couple headed to divorce court immediately. The chemistry just isn’t there on the floor. At one point after Harden lost Draymond Green on defense, leading to a dunk, he said something to Howard, who listened and then walked away.

On the surface it appears the Rockets run more post plays for Motiejunas than for Howard, which seems to irk the starting center.

He looked disinterested at times during Monday's affair.

“No, I don’t think he was disinterested,” Bickerstaff said. “I thought he was good on the glass. I thought he was running. Give [Andrew] Bogut some credit, he does a good job with his size. [Howard is] physical, uses his length, he pushes, he grabs, he holds, so I wouldn’t say he was disinterested. I thought he gave his effort. I thought he played hard. When he got it around the basket he was efficient. I wouldn’t say he was disinterested at all.”

Late in the game, Trevor Ariza and Harden were having an animated conversation about something. It seems the Rockets are having quite a few conversations like this, whether it’s on the bench (Smith and Howard had one), in the locker room, or maybe even the team bus or plane.

“It’s a good feeling because you know when you see that, something’s working right,” Klay Thompson said. “And I think [Monday] we were frustrating them early in the beginning with our ball movement and our cutting and just getting good looks at the rim. We have such great screeners on this team, we’re always going to find the open man. It’s uplifting."

The Rockets just don’t present the look of a team ready to challenge the Warriors.

Houston did a much better job with ball movement and challenging shots but couldn’t steal a win like Dallas did against Oklahoma City earlier on Monday. Green was outstanding on defense for Golden State, as the Rockets went 6-of-22 against him.

The Rockets' composure was tested late when, after being down 94-86 with 7:16 left, Bickerstaff drew a technical after a foul was called on Ariza. Not only did the foul place the Rockets in the bonus, it gave the Warriors a chance at three easy points. By the time the free throws were done, Houston trailed 97-86. Bickerstaff said he will fight for his players, which is what he’s supposed to do, but you just can’t get a fourth-quarter technical in the postseason.

After the tech, Golden State pushed its lead to as much as 16 and it was time to go home.

If things don't change for the Rockets this series might be over by the end of the weekend, regardless of whether Curry returns or not.

“You can’t allow yourself to get frustrated, it’s a playoff game, things are going to happen,” Ariza said. “They’re [at home] and they’ve won a lot of games here and we didn’t get a chance to steal one on this trip. We have a chance to come back and try next time.”