The score was tied at 56 when the buzzer sounded for halftime and the crowd watched Stephen Curry take a hard knee to the floor while trying to guard Trevor Ariza. Curry took a minute to get up and when he did…it didn’t look good. He winced in pain and limped briskly to the locker room. It was apparent Curry was done for the evening. Tough break considering Curry just returned from a sprained ankle injury. “His conditioning was better than I expected,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said post-game. “And then he slips on the wet spot, unfortunately, and back to square one. We’ll see what happens with the MRI tomorrow [Monday].” It was truly unfortunate but the game had to go on.
What followed was a 3rd quarter for the Rockets history books. History as in one could only hope it never happens again. 41 points is what the Warriors dropped on the Rockets. And with that 41-point quarter, the Warriors took complete control of the game. The Warriors crew rallied once again without their MVP and ran circles around a stunned Rockets squad.
“Terrible way, terrible way, terrible way to lose … just a terrible quarter and that’s what gave the game away,’’ Harden said.
Sure it was a terrible quarter but the Rockets have counter-rallied before. What became obvious in the second half for the Rockets was the absence of energy and a collective desire/ hunger to win. Whereas, the Warriors became hungrier and more determined after one of their players were injured.
Klay Thompson who was on fire at the 3-point line explained post-game, “I was trying to raise our level of intensity. When you play with emotion and play for your teammates, you can really get going. If we have that same emotion and intensity on Wednesday, we should be successful.’’
The Warriors were galvanized by Curry’s sudden departure from the game and put forth a spirited winning effort. From warm-ups to the announcement of the starting lineup, the Warriors looked like a team, almost like a tribe of sorts. They talked to each other, they danced, they made shots, their no-look passes connected. “When you have a team that is as together as ours is and cares about each other like ours does, you tend to pick up the fight a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Our guys sensed that we needed to come together.” It was a team effort.
The Rockets who played well the first half, reminded Houston fans that the talent is undeniably there. The crowd was right there with the Rockets chanting defense, distracting the opposing team with noise during their free-throw attempts, and in general, excited about the game.
The Rockets proved during that first half that they can run with the big dogs and their presence in the finals isn’t a fluke. But what was more than obvious during Game 4 is that the Rockets have a bunch of individuals on the court at any given time…doing things individually.
The glitz, glam and flashy elements of the Toyota Center production of the Rockets games this season could not hide the fact that the current group of guys on the roster aren’t truly a team in the bigger sense of the word. It can be seen before the game as there is little to no interaction between the guys outside of handing off a ball for a drill. The guys then move to their respective corners to warm up individually but there is no Hoo-rah…no turn up…no war cry. The game just begins and everyone hopes that the next guy does their job with little to no communication. There are nights when a few guys are having a good game and the good vibes permeate the rest of the squad. Unfortunately, most nights, when things get tough…things fall apart. Passes get lobbed in the general direction of another player but rarely connect. Blame-game arguments ensue amongst Rockets players under the opposing team’s basket after multiple offensive rebounds result in avoidable scoring.
Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff attempted to explain the phenomenal loss saying, “When the moment called for us to raise our intensity level, we dropped our guard. When their guy went down, you could see the intent in their guys’ eyes. The moment we needed to match their intensity, we didn’t do it.”
The intensity went unmatched as well as the comradery and that is how game 4 got away from the Rockets. Discord. Distrust. Distraction. Destruction.