NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 thoughts on the Rockets 102-82 win over the Timberwolves in Game 2

Chris Paul bounced back with a terrific Game 2. Bob Levey/Getty Images

In Game 2 we saw the Rockets team that many believe can unseat Golden State. The Rockets overcame a bad first quarter, then started playing like a team that can win an NBA title. The result was an easy 102-82 win over the Timberwolves. The Rockets now lead two games to none in the best of seven series.

Here are five quick thoughts from the Rockets Game 2 win:

1) This is a bad matchup for Minnesota. The Wolves' best chance might have been in Game 1, when the Rockets could not hit 3s. When the Rockets play like they did Wednesday and get a big lead, the Wolves simply do not have the horses to keep up. Minnesota is a good young team, but they do not have the ability to match the Rockets' 3s with with 2s. Karl-Anthony Towns had all of 8 points in Game 1. In game 2? Only 5 points. He should be a mismatch the Wolves can exploit. He has been anything but and Clint Capela outplayed him in both games. Capela scored just 8 but on 4 of 6 shooting and had 16 rebounds to 10 for Towns. The Wolves can not win like that.

2) Jimmy Butler does not appear to be right. The Rockets defense was terrific on Wednesday, and Butler struggled for the second game in a row. He finished with 11 points on 3 of 6 shooting. He battled injuries late in the season and he did not appear to be 100 percent in either of the first two games. Unless he is healthy, the Wolves have no shot at even winning a game in this series. 

3) Gerald Green was a game-changer. In the first quarter, the Rockets looked very much like they did in Game 1. They could not hit open 3s. They turned the ball over. They were incredibly lucky to be down just 23-18 heading to the second. Then Green entered the game, started draining 3s, and the Rockets outscored the Wolves 37-17 in the second quarter to take command of the game. Green had 12 points in the quarter and would finish with 21. 

4) Star power shuffle. James Harden was terrific in Game 1, and Chris Paul struggled. This time, Harden could not buy a shot -- he was 2 of 18 for 12 points. But Paul was much better in Game 2 with 27 points, 8 assists and strong defense. The rest of the team stepped up, but the Rockets proved they could dominate with Harden shooting poorly as long as Paul showed up. He did. 

5) 3-mendous. The Rockets will live and die by the three. In Game 1, they almost died, hitting just 10 of 37 (3 of 25 if your name was not Harden). They weren't great on Wednesday, but they hit 16 of 52 for 30 percent. The Wolves had just 5 3s. If that continues, this one is over in four.

This game looked more like what Rockets fans were expecting in the series. They were far from perfect, but pretty good is enough against this Wolves team. Neither team shot particularly well, and at times the game was downright ugly. The Rockets can be much better than this offemsively, and they still won by 20. Unless Minnesota has some tricks up its sleeve, it is hard to see this one going deeper than five games.

 

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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