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 scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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