HOUSTON -- There were some disturbing comments coming from the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
The head coach said there was a lack of juice. The leading scorer said the team was too relaxed and too comfortable. The star center said the Golden State Warriors played harder, and the veteran point guard said the kid who scored 40 points is doing a number on him.
Yes, the Rockets were beaten badly, embarrassed at home 115-80 by the Warriors. The series is now 3-0 Golden State, and no team has ever -- ever -- rallied from this deficit in the history of the NBA playoffs. The record is 0-116.
And the Rockets in their history, a history that has the Kiss of Death, the Dream Shake, Yao, Superman and The Beard, are 0-3 when faced with this deficit.
“Surprised,” said James Harden who finished with just 17 points after playing 32 minutes in three quarters. “We were too relaxed. We were too comfortable. We were playing downhill the majority of the game. Trying to come back, trying to fight. The fight wasn’t enough.”
The Rockets were down 30-18 to start and scored just 37 points in the first half, the second-fewest points they compiled this season.
This was such a surprising performance by the Rockets, who played so well in Oakland -- particularly Game 2 at the final buzzer -- only to lose both games. This team hadn’t lost three consecutive games since the 2013-14 season, and given the magnitude of this contest, the Rockets should have performed better.
“I mean, we’re down 2-0, we had two tight games [in Oakland], and I was surprised that we didn’t come out with more,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought we’d come out with a little more juice, and it seemed like things got a little tight defensively. They tightened it up, we couldn’t make some shots and then we just -- they drove us all night long. They got the ball and just attacked our paint.”
“I don’t think that’s how they won the game,” said Dwight Howard, who finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
So why did they win?
“Just played harder than us,” he said.
At the forefront of this is Stephen Curry, who scored 40 points in sensational fashion. He fought through screens, beat people to open spaces and even got a rebound in front of Howard. Guarding him made defenders wince. He made 12 of 19 shots, hit seven 3-pointers and made a noisy Toyota Center crowd act like it was watching the opera.
Jason Terry was the prime man guarding Curry, and he couldn’t contain him on a regular basis.
Nothing really worked, and the Rockets' season now is falling down a dark hole from which the escape would take an epic and historic rescue.
“We just got to win one game, and we haven’t done that this series yet,” Terry said. “And it’s going to be extremely hard on Monday [in Game 4], but we’re going to fight; that’s what we’ve done all season long. I know me, personally, I’m going to have to bring much more fight than I have in these last three games. My matchup again is Curry, and he’s doing a number on me right now.”
Players who spoke inside the locker room appeared stunned and angry, yet have a belief they can force a Game 7 by playing one game at a time. The only thing they have is faith.
In the conference semifinals, the Rockets rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 at home in which they destroyed the Los Angeles Clippers. It's performances such as that one that give this team confidence that it can win four consecutive games.
However, the Rockets need to improve communication on defense, especially in their rotations near the basket. Harden has to regain the form he had in the first two games of this series; he can’t have another 3-for-16 night. McHale needs better production from the power forwards in terms of frontcourt defense and scoring from Smith and Jones. The point guards, Pablo Prigioni and Terry, need to tighten up the defense on Curry and hit open shots when given the opportunities.
Overall, the Rockets just need to show the fight they didn’t have on Saturday night.
“We just can’t quit on each other,” Howard said. “As much as we went through, as great as they played tonight as a team, we can’t give up on each other and we’ve come too far, we’ve been through too many battles, to just allow it to end like tonight. I mean, we’ve just got to man up. We can’t quit on each other.”