HOUSTON – As the red confetti fell from the beams at the Toyota Center on Monday night, the Houston Rockets felt a sense of relief.
His Western Conference semifinal series is tied after the Rockets survived the fourth game, clinching a 112-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors, despite having almost a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Two Golden State snipers looked at potential 3-pointers that equalized, with only a few seconds remaining, but Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry failed.
"Yes, we won the game but we have to be better," said Rockets point guard Chris Paul, who took the rebound from Curry's foul and split a pair of free throws to seal the win. "We understand that. Coming back to Bay, they probably will not miss those photos."
The Rockets rolled for most of the game, but the Houston offensive, which was spectacular in the first three quarters, slowed, giving double defensive champion Golden State a chance to return to the game.
Houston had 19 points in the fourth quarter, including just 11 after a PJ Tucker kick put the Rockets at 15 with 9 minutes remaining 12 seconds. After shooting 42.1% from the range of 3 points up to three quarters, the Rockets were 1 to 12 long distance in the final frame.
The Rockets, who made a small formation in the fourth quarter to maximize pitch and spacing, lost 16 of their last 20 pitches. Houston had a two-minute deficit, 20 seconds before James Harden made a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining, but could not give the Rockets a two-way cushion.
"It all intensified in the fourth quarter," said Harden, who finished with 38 points and 10 rebounds but was just 3-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-6 in 3s in the fourth quarter. "We went through a stretch where we could not score. They went through a stretch where Draymond [Green] I have some layups, but other than that, they really could not score any. Twenty-four points defensively against anyone is a great quarter, but against the Warriors, it's even better. We were only 19, but fortunately, we gave ourselves a cushion in the third quarter to support it. That's what it's all about.
After the missing free throw of Harden, the Warriors perfectly executed a game outside the time limit to take Durant (34 points in 12 of 22 shots), which Paul called "naked look". Houston did not trade after Green got a clean screen on Tucker, allowing Durant to open, but his 29-foot attempt out immediately came out.
Green took advantage of the rebound, and Durant returned the ball to Curry, who made 30 points in 12 of 25 shots. Curry immediately threw a 34-footer as Harden and Austin Rivers invested to try to counter the shot. It was a long time, and Paul snatched the rebound with both hands – "I've seen you jump in a long time," Tucker teased Paul.
"I thought it would be overtime – 100 percent," said Rivers, who played 33 minutes after Houston coach Mike D Antoni opted to play a smaller lineup than the Rockets. "KD has one and I'm like, 'Come on, man,' so Steph got one, the fact that he was not open and it was like a crazy shot, those are the ones he'd hit, we're lucky, .
The Rockets certainly were not apologizing for not closing the Warriors more convincingly. They were happy to protect their home team even for the series.
However, the postgame theme throughout the locker room of the house was that the Rockets needed to be sharper to get a win at the Oracle Arena, which is a must for Houston to advance to the finals of the conference.
"We played well and we got a few wins, but we have to be better," said Tucker, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. "We have to be more aggressive.We have to play the whole game faster.We have to get … I will say now, we have to be more intense the next game."