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Rockets rout Warriors in Game 2 with a small-ball death lineup of their own

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 17/5/2018 Sam Amick

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HOUSTON — How did Houston stay alive in the Western Conference finals?

By destroying Golden State’s vaunted death lineup.

The box score from the Rockets’ 127-116 win in Game 2 reads more like an obituary for the NBA’s most celebrated grouping, as that once-feared five-some of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green was dominated in the kind of way we have simply never seen. This was the small-ball starting lineup that was supposed to be unmatched, the Warriors’ secret weapon that was nicknamed the "Hamptons Five" by The Athletic sportswriter Tim Kawakami after Golden State recruited Durant in said location two summers ago.

Yet here were the Rockets defending with their hair on fire, as assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik put it, taking it to the Warriors in the kind of meaningful way that just might change the course of this clash. On this night, they beat Golden State at its own game. Behold the before and after…

Five games with that lineup in the playoffs heading into Game 2, per NBA.com/stats:

  • A net rating of plus-34.4 that, by comparison, was more than four times that of Houston’s league-best net rating during the regular season (8.5).
  • A defensive rating of 92 points allowed per 100 possessions that, by comparison, was far better than the 101.5 mark that Boston boasted as the NBA’s best in the regular season.

The 22 disastrous minutes in which they all played in Game 2:

  • A net rating of minus-35.9, and a defensive rating of — wait for it — 137.9.
  • All five Warriors starters had a plus-minus rating of at least minus-20, with Durant the worst at minus-28.

And how’s this for perfect timing?

Word broke this week, courtesy of the New York Times, that the Hamptons house Durant rented as his free agency headquarters in the summer of 2016 is on the market for nearly $15 million. At this rate, Rockets forward P.J. Tucker should buy the lot — if only for the sake of symbolism.

Tucker, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal to join Houston last summer, is the key to the Rockets’ lesser-known small-ball lineup that also includes Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza. The locals call Houston’s version the "Tuck-wagon," a hat tip to a former Rockets player who was also a feisty, if undersized, defender and used to play that role, the retired Chuck Hayes (aka Chuck-wagon). And after swearing on Tuesday that Game 1 was an outlier, and that the Rockets were still fully capable of derailing this Warriors dynasty, Tucker did his part to prove it.

The "Tuck-wagon" lineup, which takes 6-foot-10 center Clint Capela out while bringing the reigning Sixth Man of the Year (Gordon) in and puts the 6-5 Tucker at center, had a net rating of 30.2 in 10 minutes together, an offensive rating of 125.2 (Golden State’s 112.3 led the regular season) and a defensive rating of 95.

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"That’s my favorite lineup,” Tucker, who had 22 points and hit five three-pointers after scoring one point in Game 1, told USA TODAY Sports afterwards. "We feel like we’re the best at that, when we go small. We feel like nobody can do what we do. You want to go small? Alright, fine. We’ll go small too. And like I said, our small lineup is the best in the league."

As Tucker and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni were quick to point out, the defense sparked everything. This was about effort and will, and all those qualities that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

"The whole key; that's everything," D’Antoni said of the defense. "You guys can write an article in one sentence. That's it. We got into people. They missed (shots), and we were able to run. That way we get more people involved. If we have to walk it up every time, then that's a lot of (isolation plays), which they walked it up tonight and did a lot of isos.

"You have one of the best offenses probably of all time, at least with Golden State, and they're one of the best all-time teams. We're trying to prove we're up there with them."

Beating them at their own game, it’s safe to say, is the best way to do it.

"We were going to get swept, if you listen to everybody (on the outside)," Tucker said. "We played terrible (in Game 1), man. Everybody’s talking about how they did, or that Steph didn’t play good, but look at everything, man. You’ve got to look at it all."

With Game 3 on Sunday at Oracle Arena, the Rockets have us looking now.

Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.

Related slideshow: Top scenes from the NBA playoffs (Provided by photo services)

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