OAKLAND -- They won Game 1 when they had tender ankles and 20 turnovers. They won Game 2 when they were outshot. The Warriors gave Houston two chances, two different ways, to dig out a win in Oakland, and neither happened.
If the Rockets can’t beat the Warriors when the champs couldn’t locate their “A” game, with Stephen Curry shooting 6-of-23 from deep, good luck winning four games in five chances.
Despite most voices on both sides properly downplaying the significance of the Warriors taking a 2-0 series lead with a tip-to-horn 115-109 victory Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, this Western Conference second-round series is over. Done. The only salient question is how many games will be needed.
Not seven. Probably six. Maybe five.
“Game 3 is a must-win,” said Houston guard Austin Rivers, a lone voice willing to stare into the harsh and blinding reality. “There is no other way to look at it.”
Actually, Game 3 is a must-win only to avoid the possibility of being swept. And, yes, if the Rockets can’t win at home on Saturday, a sweep would feel nothing less than inevitable.
Not that anyone of sound mind would mutter such an outrageous statement.
“When you have home court, if you can get the first two, it puts you in good shape, with the awareness that you're just getting started,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Nothing has happened yet. We’ve got to go down to Houston and be ready to play because we know how good they are, we know how hard they're going to play.”
Understand, the Rockets played hard in Games 1 and 2. They were right there, in both games, inside the final minute. They lost their composure in Game 1, and the Warriors let them. The team that leads the NBA in 3-point shots rained triples, 17-of-40, in Game 2 and it was not enough to overcome a Warriors team unable to find its scoring touch until the fourth quarter.
The Warriors were too much even though Curry, as in Game 1, again spent the fourth quarter trying to avoid his sixth foul -- while also nursing a dislocated finger sustained in the first quarter. They were too much on a night when their most efficient scorers were, of all people, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green.
Steph went back to the locker room after injuring his left hand. pic.twitter.com/iwxJa2aJch— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 1, 2019
Game 2 was perhaps the biggest test the Warriors will face insofar as their recent history has been a tale of inconsistency, most pointedly in regard to their defensive effort. They gave away games in the regular season, did it again in the first round of the playoffs against the Clippers.
Would they rediscover the ruthlessness that makes them so lethal?
Defensively, yes, and again from the start. After holding the Rockets to 19 first-quarter points in Game 1, the Warriors limited them to 20, on 36.4-percent shooting in Game 2.
“That's a ballclub that if they get going, they can become impossible to stop,” Green said. “To start the game with that type of defensive intensity the way we did these last two games is key in being up 2-0 in the series.”
The Warriors, as a team, have turned in superb back-to-back defensive efforts. If they can take that to Houston, they’re likely to win at least one of the two games.
“They did what they're supposed to do: they won their two home games,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Now, if we're good enough, we'll win our two home games and come back here for Game 5.”
Don’t let D’Antoni trick you with that “if we’re good enough” line. The Rockets are good enough to beat most any team in the postseason. They are still trying to find a way to take down the Warriors, who have posted a 12-5 record against Houston over their last three playoff series.
Make that 14-5, with the distinct possibility of improvement.
“Our defense has been really good,” Iguodala said. “We’re still not perfect on defense. We’ve been good, though, considering how crafty they are. They made a lot of 3s and we still were able to control the game.
“The thing that I feel good about is that against this team, we won’t get comfortable. They’re confident and believe they’re going to go home and beat us twice.
“But there are more levels of us to reach. For sure. For sure.”
The Rockets have seen Kevin Durant’s scoring greatness, but they haven’t seen Klay Thompson go on one of his notable rampages or Curry light up the scoreboard.
And, still, the Warriors are halfway to winning the series. Assuming good health, they won’t need five more games to win two.