Bonta Hill: Houston Rockets showed toughness, grit in Game 2; what can we expect in Game 3?

Before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned how his team wouldn’t deviate from what helped them win 65 games in the regular season.

The Rockets passed the ball two more times in Game 2 (228) than they did in all of Game 1 (226). So how did they rout the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 to even up the Western Conference Finals?

It wasn’t because Houston all of the sudden moved the ball better — the Rockets had one amazing sequence in the second quarter that was capped off by an Eric Gordon three-pointer, but that was an anomaly.

Toughness. It starts and ends there. Just ask D’Antoni.

“Oh, yeah. We went from the wide-open California offense to the triple threat. I mean, we changed everything up,” D’Antoni joked after Game 2. “No, we did exactly what we did. We played harder. We got into them. They felt us physically. We didn’t quite have that same intensity in the first game. Our guys are great and they learned from it, snapped back and did the job.”

Stephen Curry has taken a pounding on the defensive end of the floor, which has made him look pedestrian offensively.

So far in the series, Curry is 2-of-13 from the three-point line, and despite some very tough finishes at the rim, hasn’t looked explosive. That has much to do with the way the Rockets are defending him.

Who could blame them for being terrified of those momentum swinging three-pointers from the two-time MVP? You can’t knock their strategy of living with Kevin Durant torching them while stymying the Splash Brothers and not giving them any breathing room.

However, the Rockets have picked on Curry, and at times thrown him around like a rag doll. He’s digging in defensively, but you have to wonder how it’s affecting him offensively.

Curry says he’s a-okay.

“I’m feeling great. Tonight, I didn’t find a rhythm early. I had some decent looks from three that could have changed the momentum of the game early in the first half,” Curry said after Game 2. “But for the most part, it was just a frustrating night all the way around. They made some adjustments. They got other guys involved, and they made plays.”

Other than toughness and responding with a right hook to the Warriors Game 1 jab, the Rockets played a lot faster in Game 2.

After three shot-clock violations and several possessions where Houston was forced to put up awful shots due to excessive dribbling, the Rockets played quicker, and at times looked like D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns’ teams in the mid-90’s.

In the second quarter, the Houston small-ball lineup of P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon blew the game open with their corner threes.

Houston attempted eight three’s from the corner and how five of them were inside the first seven seconds of the shot clock. The Rockets attacked quickly and made the Warriors look silly defensively.

Heck, Tucker, Ariza, and Gordon combined to score 68 points and were 12-of-18 from the perimeter. That’s no bueno.

Their small-lineup was a lot better than the Warriors “Hamptons Five” lineup, who were outscored by 18 points in 22 minutes in Game 2, the worst points differential since KD joined the team, according to ESPN stats and info.

Game 3 Sunday at Oracle Arena is going to be a lot of fun. Will Curry and the Warriors hit back and impose their physicality on the Rockets? Or will Houston prove to the world that they’re ready to take the throne and put an end to the Warriors’ dynasty before it even really begins?

The Rockets are confident they can oust the Warriors by just being themselves.

“We don’t really worry about who we’re playing against. If we come out and be some dogs and do what we did tonight, it doesn’t matter,” Harden said. “But if we don’t, then we see the results in Game 1. So it’s not about chess match or what they’re doing. It’s about us.”

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