You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Top Stories

Rockets ‘found a way,’ used their toughness to beat Warriors

SF Gate logo SF Gate 5/25/2018 By Brian T. Smith
Replay Video

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

They won it with toughness.

BOX SCORE: ROCKETS 98, WARRIORS 94

They took it with defense.

They even lost Chris Paul in the final, tight seconds.

And now the Rockets are just one win from the NBA Finals.

From down 2-1 to up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals. With Eric Gordon’s final smooth shots, just enough offense from James Harden and two of the biggest victories of Mike D’Antoni’s coaching career.

It was 98-94, Rockets, on Thursday night at pounding Toyota Center in Game 5. It was another gritty, hard-fought victory over Golden State that was years in the making.

Paul’s status is paramount. He suffered an apparent hamstring injury with just under a minute left.

“He will be evaluated tomorrow,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll be all right.”

Right now, the Rockets are in control and they’re pushing away the Warriors like they belong in the real Finals.

“If you watch championship games or series … they were heavyweight fighters punching it out, and they’re not going to let you win on points,” D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to knock them out. Our guys hung in there, hung in there. They found a way.”

Gordon, whose spark has either shined or flickered throughout the playoffs, was his Sixth Man of the Year self once again. Another huge, late three that ignited the Rockets’ victory. A team-high 24 points on another night when D’Antoni stuck to a seven-man rotation and his team shot 37.2 percent (29-for-78) from the floor.

RELATED: Steve Kerr feels ‘great’ about Warriors despite Game 5 loss

As the 65-win Rockets have fought for and claimed the high ground, the team so many predicted would own this series has fallen apart in back-to-back fourth quarters.

“They’re angry,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “They know that we could have won this game, could have won the last game. I think they’re sitting in there and they’re angry, as they should be.”

After fighting for home-court advantage all season, then losing it as soon as the conference finals began, the Rockets spent the next three games trying to regain it. One of the strongest victories of the Harden era — 95-92, Rockets, Tuesday at Oracle Arena — evened the series and carried red momentum all the way from Oakland to Houston.

“You don't get this far unless you stay emotionally calm, have short memories,” D’Antoni said. “It's almost play to play. Not even game to game, but play to play.”

Ninety minutes before Game 5, the Rockets were presented with another advantage. Andre Iguodala, a critical piece of Golden State’s attack on both ends of the court, would miss his second consecutive game because of injury.

Each of the previous four matchups was dictated by a different rhythm. Game 5 was no different.

D’Antoni’s Rockets, once known for endlessly firing up threes and blazing across the hardwood, continued to intentionally slow their pace and wait for openings on offense. They still attacked and kicked out for long-range shots. But iso ball was again emphasized, which partly contributed to high-scoring Golden State scoring just 17 points in the first quarter.

The Rockets outscored the Warriors only in the first and fourth quarters. It was enough on a night when Golden State committed 18 turnovers and fell six points short of 100.

“We’re showing it,” said Harden, referring to his team’s mental toughness. “Can’t explain it, can’t talk about it. We just go out there and show it. We’ve been having that motto all year. We don’t really talk a lot. We just go out there and play hard and prove people wrong.”

Golden State’s first lead of the evening arrived just as the third quarter began. As the Rockets’ threes continued to clank, the Warriors found their first edge.

Two free throws from Stephen Curry pushed Golden State’s advantage to 66-63, while the Rockets were shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 9-for-32 on threes.

The Rockets’ defense did not waver, though. And as the fourth began, it was 72-71, Golden State, with a pulsing Toyota Center trying to push the off-target Rockets over the top.

“Ah, man, fans were great. … We feed off that,” Gerald Green said.

CP3 kicked in at the perfect time for the second consecutive game, sinking his second ridiculous three that somehow found the bottom of the net.

“He made tough shots in key moments,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.

The Rockets’ overall shooting really didn’t improve.

With 4:05 to go, Harden and Paul were a combined 11-for-35 from the floor, with Harden 0-for-10 on 3s. Their team had connected on 38.9 percent (28-for-72) of its shots.

But Paul again found an edge, driving toward the rim and banking in a runner. And even when CP3 went down in the final seconds, injured and stuck on the bench as the Rockets held back the Warriors, his team still had enough.

“His spirits aren’t great,” D’Antoni said. “He wanted to be out there and, for sure, he’s worried and all that. That’s normal. … We’ll see (Friday) how it goes.”

Another tense, hard-fought victory against the reigning champs.

Just one win from the NBA Finals.

“It feels good,” Green said. “but we’ve got to get one more.”

Who knew the Rockets were this tough?

They did.

Brian T. Smith is a sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle. Email: brian.smith@chron.com Twitter: @ChronBrianSmith

Related slideshow: 2018 NBA playoffs (Provided by photo services)

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From SF Gate

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon