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Rockets look to even series against Warriors

Sports Xchange
16 May 2018, 11:16 GMT+10

HOUSTON -- It required two minutes and 23 seconds for all the Rockets had worked for to be torn asunder, for their unrelenting charge to the best record in the Western Conference to be rendered moot, and the home-court advantage that accompanied that accomplishment to be blithely negated through the handiwork of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

It took that long for Golden State to churn out a 12-2 run in the third quarter that yielded a double-digit lead and a stranglehold on Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday night at Toyota Center.

The Rockets had labored down the stretch of the regular season to bypass the Warriors in the standings and guarantee that this anticipated series would open in Houston. In one two-plus-minute flash, the Warriors snuffed the Rockets and left them reeling.

In the aftermath of their 119-106 victory, the Warriors were left basking in a triumph that included rare circumstances. It marked the first time since their opening-round series with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 that the Warriors began a postseason series on the road, and, like that April 19 game at Staples Center, they met the challenge in road environs.

Thompson remembered that game as well as the outcome of the subsequent contests in that series. So, while the Warriors welcomed the lauding, they were hasty to issue words of caution while attention shifted to Game 2, which will tip off on Wednesday night back at Toyota Center.

"It was a great win, but this series is far from over," said Thompson, who scored 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting. "I've been in this same situation, me and Draymond, before. We came out and won a tough game, and they (the Clippers) came back and beat us (138-98) in Game 2.

"So, it's natural to relax, but we're not going to relax. We're still not where we want to be, and we've got a long way to go."

Modesty aside, the Warriors don't have nearly as far to go as the Rockets, who not only surrendered home court, they allowed Golden State to dictate the terms of the series opener.

Houston breezed through the opening two rounds of the playoffs in part by displaying historically judicious ball security, posting a turnover rate (9.8 per 100 possessions) that ranked as second-best in playoff history over the 41 years that turnovers have been an official statistic.

In Game 1, the Rockets committed 16 turnovers and helped fuel the Warriors' devastating transition offense. Golden State entered the series averaging 17.6 points per game in transition this postseason, far and away the best mark in the NBA. The Warriors scored 18 fast-break points in the opener, penalizing the Rockets' surprising and sudden carelessness with the ball.

"If you miss shots or if you turn the basketball over, they're out," said Rockets guard James Harden, who paired a game-high 41 points with seven assists but also posted four turnovers. "They're getting dunks, they're getting 3s. I'm not sure how many transition points they had, but it was too many. That's what they thrive on. So, we've got to do a better job of not turning the basketball over, taking better shots, and getting back (defensively) and matching up."

The Warriors recorded a 60.6 effective field-goal percentage in the series opener, which was par for the course even against the Rockets' exceptional defense. Golden State produced a 61.8 effective field-goal percentage during the team's three regular-season meetings, the highest such mark against Houston by any opponent. However, it wasn't that the Warriors shot efficiently but rather the number of wide-open looks they generated by ball movement.

The Rockets rightfully claimed some responsibility, with a handful of blown defensive assignments resulting in uncontested shots for Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Nick Young. Combined, that trio shot 10 for 25 from behind the arc, with Thompson, in particular, burning the Rockets with open 3s after Houston was caught scrambling to defend multiple actions.

"There's too many times we had just mental lapses," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We either didn't switch properly or we didn't switch hard enough."

Houston could point to a myriad of other factors contributing to its demise, namely key role players P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, and Luc Mbah a Moute combining for seven points -- two fewer than Young scored in 15 minutes off the Warriors bench -- on 2-of-14 shooting. But what resonated were the miscues on both ends, fissures it can mend in advance of Game 2.

The objective is clearer for the Warriors: avoid the Game 2 letdown that undermined their postseason hopes four years ago.

"Nothing really changes," said Durant, who scored a team-high 37 points. "We know it's a long series, a seven-game series, so we know they're going to come out with a lot of energy next game, try to even this thing up. So, we've just got to stay focused and be patient out there, and continue to keep playing hard."

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