WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Fred Faour: 5 quick thoughts on the Rockets' amazing Game 5 win over the Warriors

Chris Paul (left) was awesome. James Harden (right) was not. Tim Warren/Getty Images

The Rockets are one game away from the NBA Finals. They grinded out an ugly, clutch 98-94 win over the Warriors to take a 3-2 series lead. They now have two shots to make it to the Finals. They did not play well on offense in Game 5, but their defense was terrific. It was a great win, especially considering the emotional start with Santa Fe High school in the house. Here are five quick thoughts on an amazing win:

1) Doing it with defense: The Rockets forced 16 turnovers and for the fifth time in the series, the team that won the turnover battle won the game. As in Game 4, the Rockets offense faltered down the stretch, but the defense locked it down. People look to their offense, but let's give the Rockets credit for playing fantastic defense, especially in the last two games. They have held the Warriors under 100 points in two straight games, which is no small feat.

2) Where is the MVP? James Harden had a terrible shooting game. He did his best to grind out some points at the line and on drives, but was 0-for-11 on 3s. He finished with just 19 points on 5 of 21 shooting. That the Rockets won the game despite that was a credit to just how gritty this team actually played. If the MVP can show up one of the next two games, the Rockets are going to the NBA Finals. It would help if he could get some calls. The Warriors seem to get the questionable calls, but Harden did not. If he does...

3) Again, Chris Paul: Paul had a rough first half, but for the second game in a row, he was the best player on the Rockets in the second half. After scoring two in the first, he had 18 in the second. The past two games show why the Rockets went all-in to get him. The biggest concern was Paul limped off in the fourth with an apparent hamstring injury. Without him they have no chance.

4) How good is Kevin Durant? He did not have his best shooting game, but without him the Warriors would have been toast. Considering the Warriors got 20-plus point games from Durant (29), Steph Curry (22) and Klay Thompson (23) and still lost says something about the Rockets. Thompson was especially good, shooting 8-of-14. But everything was difficult and contested, and the Warriors could not get it done.

5) The X-factor: Eric Gordon had a team-high 24, but he did it on just 6 of 15 shooting, 3 of 10 on 3s. He did most of his damage at the line, going 9 of 10. Without him, however, the Rockets do not win this. 

The bottom line: The Rockets need one win to go to the Finals. If you look at pure stats, they should not have won this game. But they gutted it out, played great defense, looked the Warriors in the eye and made them blink. They showed heart. If Paul can't play going forward, they are in trouble. But at some point, doesn't the MVP show up? We shall see. Thursday's win was huge.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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