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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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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