NBA PLAYOFFS

Del Olaleye: Are the Rockets just another speed bump on the Warriors' path to history?

The Warriors are historically good. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Can 12 minutes wipe away a season’s worth of accomplishments? Maybe. The Rockets watched a 65-win season and a No. 1 seed go by the wayside after the Warriors outscored them 31-24 in the third quarter of Game 1. A game that was tied at the half turned into a run-away-and-hide game for the defending champs. An obsession with the Warriors pushed Daryl Morey to try to build a team that could compete with and beat the Warriors. Whether the Rockets can do that is still to be determined but initial polling isn’t favorable.

The issue for the Rockets is that there may be nothing that can be done to catch the Warriors. At least not as they’re presently constituted. I saw one Rockets fan tweet “We need to sign Lebron.” That actually may be the only answer. That just speaks to the greatness of the Warriors. Signing the best player in a generation may help a 65-win team beat Golden State. That is an offseason conversation and one that should be had if you believe the gap between the Warriors can’t be closed by internal improvement. I’m in the “this series was over before it started” faction and Game 1 had nothing to do with it.

The opener of the Western Conference finals was a continuation of what we’ve seen from the Rockets over the last thirty games or so. They entered the playoffs playing average basketball and that subpar play didn’t end even as they dispatched of the Wolves and the Jazz. While their defense has been outstanding against two outmatched opponents the offense has lagged behind. The devastating spurts of offensive brilliance for the Rockets have been few and far between this postseason as their defense has carried them. They entered the series playing at a level that wouldn’t get the job  done and facing the Warriors in Game 1 exposed things the Jazz and Wolves were incapable of doing.

That smothering Rockets defense that I talked about earlier didn’t make an appearance in the opener. Defensive lapses that brought back the memories of previous Rockets teams happened far too often. Warriors wide open 3s off of made Houston buckets cost the Rockets dearly. When they did happen to get back on defense, simple back cuts led to easy Golden State layups. In a series with little margin for error, the Rockets defense didn’t play to a level that respected the importance of each possession.

A Game 2 win for Houston changes the energy but not the problems that will exist over the course of the series for the Rockets. Can the Rockets maintain a level of excellence over the next four out of six games that will be needed to earn a trip to the Finals? The talent disparity is an obvious hinderance to that. That disparity doesn’t just manifest itself in one on one matchups but also in how much pressure is felt to play a perfect ball game.

There isn’t any shame in a possible Warriors destruction of the Rockets. Only that guy I mentioned earlier with the last name of James has beaten them in a series since Steve Kerr was hired. The Warriors responded to that defeat by adding the second best player in the world immediately. They haven’t been challenged since.

Are the Rockets just the latest in a line of unmemorable teams that the Warriors run over in their dynasty? Game 2 might give us our answer.

 

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Houston has lost back-to-back games

Astros drop series to Giants with finale loss

Houston's offense came up short again in San Francisco on Sunday. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games against the Giants, the Astros tried to grab the finale to win his high-difficulty series. They came up short, though, with San Francisco once again one-upping them on offense against Luis Garcia, giving Houston back-to-back losses.

Final Score: Giants 5, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 64-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Logan Webb (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia (7-6)

Gurriel strikes first, but Giants get the better of Garcia

The Astros were able to grab an early lead against Logan Webb in the top of the first, getting a runner on base to set up Yuli Gurriel for a two-run homer to start the scoring. Luis Garcia, who erased a walk in the first and a double in the second to maintain the 2-0 advantage, ran into trouble in the third. After two quick outs, Kris Bryant, recently acquired by the Giants at the trade deadline, changed the momentum with a solo homer in the first game for his new team.

They scored two more runs during the two-out rally on three hits and a walk, grabbing a 3-2 lead before Garcia would get the final out. He managed a scoreless fourth, but San Francisco got to him again in the fifth, chasing him out of the game with a two-out, two-run homer to extend their lead to 5-2. His final line in the loss: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 89 P.

Giants take series as Astros drop the finale

First out of Houston's bullpen was Rafael Montero, making his debut for his new team. He did well, getting the third out of the fifth then tossing a scoreless sixth. Phil Maton was next, coming in for the bottom of the seventh and erasing a single to keep it a three-run game. After wasting a chance with two runners on in the seventh, the Astros started a new rally in the top of the eighth, getting back-to-back hits to lead it off with runners on first and third with no outs.

They would get just one run from it, though, making it 5-3, which would go final after a scoreless bottom of the eighth by Ryne Stanek and a 1-2-3 inning at the plate by Houston in the top of the ninth. That gave the Giants the series and left the Astros reeling from back-to-back losses as they turn the page to another high-caliber opponent to finish this road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel to the last leg of this road trip, Los Angeles, before a day off on Monday. Tuesday, they'll pick up a quick two-game series with the Dodgers, with Lance McCullers Jr. (8-2, 3.23 ERA) for the Astros going up against Walker Buehler (11-1, 2.19 ERA) for LA in the opener at 9:10 PM Central.

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