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Rockets even West finals with Warriors

By Reuters - May 17,2018 - Last updated at May 21,2018

Houston Rockets guard James Harden controls the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson during game two of the Western Conference finals of the 2018 NBA play-offs in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday (Reuters photo by Troy Taormina)

Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker sparked a revival by Houston’s role players, and the Rockets evened the Western Conference finals with a 127-105 victory over the visiting Golden State Warriors in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Gordon scored 27 points off the bench, connecting on six of nine 3-point attempts, while Tucker chipped in a postseason-career-high 22 points on five-of-six shooting from behind the arc.

Rockets guard James Harden added 27 points and ten rebounds. He was not forced to carry the load singularly as he did in the series opener, when he paired 41 points with seven assists in a 13-point defeat.

“Total team effort”, Harden said postgame on TNT. “We played harder and smarter than Game 1. We didn’t switch up any strategies or whatnot. Just play harder.”

Kevin Durant scored a game-high 38 points on 13-of-22 shooting and kept the Warriors within range with 18 points in the third quarter. However, Houston utilised its multitude of offensive weapons and also eliminated the defensive mistakes that proved fatal in the opener, limiting the Warriors to 9-of-30 shooting from 3-point range while surrendering only seven points in transition.

“Everything was fuelled off our defence,” Gordon said. “Everybody was locked in at the right time and guys were knocking down shots, and when we play that way, it becomes a fun game and that’s why we got a good result.”

Even with the Warriors’ erratic play, the Rockets laboured to pull away until midway through the fourth quarter.

Golden State sliced what was a 19-point deficit to 11 with a 13-5 run that bridged the final two periods. However, after Andre Iguodala missed a free throw that would have cut the margin to ten with 8:12 remaining, Houston responded with an 11-0 burst that included 3-pointers from Gordon, Harden and Tucker. At 111-89, the Rockets finally held an advantage that felt secure.

Houston, which recorded just three fast-break points in Game 1, responded with a concerted attempt to run early and often. The Rockets had seven points in transition in the first quarter alone and repeatedly attacked the Warriors early in the shot clock, preventing Golden State from setting up its stifling defence.

“We just played at a better pace,” said Rockets guard Chris Paul, who scored 16 points. “A lot of that was helped, too, that we got stops. We defended better, we got out in transition, we still played our [isolations] when we had them. We just played with a little bit more thrust.”

The Rockets carried a 26-21 lead into the second period and extended that advantage to double digits with a 12-5 spurt. When the Warriors responded, the Rockets answered with 3-pointers, closing the first half 10 of 23 from behind the arc.

Golden State coach Steve 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 get going a little bit. But, give them the credit. They came out and played a great game and got everybody going. So we got what we deserved. They kicked our butts, there’s no other way to say it.”

Stephen Curry added 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Warriors but missed seven of eight shots from deep. Klay Thompson scored just eight points after posting 28 in the series opener.

“For the most part, it was a frustrating night all around,” Curry said. “They made some adjustments, got other guys involved and made plays. That’s kind of how a series like this is going to be. Game after game is going to be a chess match. Tonight we just didn’t make enough plays to stop the momentum that was building, and that was the difference in the game.”

Trevor Ariza posted 19 points and six assists for Houston, and Clint Capela had five points and 10 rebounds.

The Rockets wound up 16 of 42 (38.1 per cent) from 3-point range while the Warriors were 9 of 30 (30 per cent).

Game 3 is Sunday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

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