NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets ride P.J. Tucker to even series with Golden State Warriors

HOUSTON — When asked what Stephen Curry meant when he said the Golden State Warriors needed to be “greedy” in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets, head coach Steve Kerr said it meant being loose, but disciplined, taking care of the basketball and defending with force.

The Warriors did none of that on Wednesday. They looked tight, out-of-sorts and sloppy, and were at best passive in a 127-105 series-evening loss, with Curry himself scoring just 16 on 7-of-19 shooting.

“Tonight as a whole, I didn’t find a rhythm early, had some decent looks from three that could have changed the momentum of the game early,” Curry said. “For the most part, it’s just a frustrating night all the way around. They made adjustments, got other guys involved and made plays.”

Curry was tentative after a physical first quarter, during which the Warriors turned the ball over seven times and went 0-for-7 from three.

Curry himself went 1-for-8 from three-point land, a marked departure from his usual 4.6 three-point makes he usually scores after a 1-for three-point performance in a playoff game. His 2-for-13 mark from three-point land over the first two games is the worst two-game three-point performance of his playoff career. The Warriors as a team went 9-for-30 from three.

“We played harder, we got into them, they felt us physically,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We didn’t quite have that intensity the first game.”

On the other side, P.J. Tucker — who spent five seasons playing in Israel, Greece, Italy, Germany and Ukraine after his rookie year of 2006-07 — was arguably the Houston’s MVP for his work on both ends of the floor.

Tucker — who hit 4-of-6 threes at Golden State in the season opener — equalled his career playoff scoring high of 19 points before the third quarter was in the books, and finished with 22, shooting 8-of-9 from the field, 5-of-6 from three. He was one of three Rockets to score 20 points or more.

“This game was a matter of the Rockets bringing the force that’s necessary to win a game, and we didn’t,” Kerr said. “We had seven turnovers in the first quarter. We set the tone early with our own play, and allowed them to get some confidence and some easy buckets in transition. We let guys go a little bit.”

With Curry struggling and the Rockets shooting 16-of-41 from beyond the arc, the Warriors seemed to force passes to find other sources of offense, and like Curry, the passing was stilted and awkward. With 2:26 left in the third quarter, Golden State had as many turnovers — 13 — as the Rockets had in all of Game 1.

“We got into people, they missed and we were able to run,” D’Antoni said. “We’d rather get out and run and get some threes up, which we were able to do.”

“We knew what was coming,” Kerr said. “The Rockets basically told us what was coming the past couple days.”

With under nine minutes to go in the second quarter, a bad pass from Thompson to Draymond Green led to another two awkward passes between the two and a strip steal by Chris Paul. Tucker then sent a behind-the-back pass to James Harden, who hit a three in Green’s face.

A series of five passes in-close to the basket ended with an errant missive from Andre Iguodala that turned into a Trevor Ariza dunk with 3:11 to go in the first half.

At halftime, four Rockets had 13 points or more — Ariza (15), Tucker (14), Harden (14) and Gordon (13). Only one Warrior was in double digits — Kevin Durant at 18. While Golden State had to rely on Durant in Game 1 — he went for 37 — they did have other scorers in a free-and-easy offense. On Wednesday, Only Curry and Durant (38) finished in double figures for the Warriors. Curry and Thompson combined for just 24.

Tellingly, before the break, the Warriors had just two fast-break points, and Houston had 10. The Rockets rode Tucker to a 19-point lead at one point, before a 5-0 Warriors run in the waning moments of the first half cut the lead to 14.

Durant scored 18 in the third, almost single-handedly keeping Golden State afloat, but the Warriors never trailed by fewer than 10 in the second half.

The Warriors cut the lead to 11 after Iguodala went 1-of-2 at the line with 8:17 to go in the fourth, but a shake-and-bake three by Gordon got the lead back up to 14. Two empty Warriors possessions later, Tucker set his career playoff best with a corner three, as the Warriors called time out with 7:07 to go, down 108-89.

“If I’m not mistaken, the first game of the year, at Golden State, he hit a lot of threes, then he went through a period where he was missing them and started to question himself,” D’Antoni said. “The staff didn’t question him. That guy’s a warrior.”

A Harden three from the top of the arc with 6:39 to go upped the lead to 22. It would get as high as 26. A night after going off for 41, Harden had a more reasonable 27, with Eric Gordon also scoring 27 points, on 8-of-15 shooting.

“We are who we are, we had to be who we are, and we just did it better, longer,” D’Antoni said. “We can beat anybody, anywhere at any time, playing the way we play. Some people may not like it. Sorry. It might not look good to some people, but it’s effective, and it’s efficient.”

The Warriors and Rockets come to Oracle Arena for Game 3 on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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