Warriors lead 3-2

How the Rockets can still beat the Warriors

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Falling behind 3-2 in a series when you are the road team is tough. Winning two games in a row against the defending champions is impossible enough, but doing it without homecourt advantage in a possible Game 7 is asking a lot. There's no denying that the Rockets have become the firm underdog in this series heading into Toyota Center on Friday.

However, it's certainly not impossible. In fact, the Cavaliers were down 3-2 when they were going back to Cleveland for Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals. It's been done before. To do it however, the Rockets need to be on their A game and treat Game 6 as the end-all-be-all. To do that, a few things have to happen.


1) Clint Capela has to show up

The Rockets have gotten very little out of Clint Capela in this series. In this series, Capela is averaging 8.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks on 55.1% true shooting. The Rockets have been a negative 13.9 per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor. Draymond Green has virtually took away his lob game and defensively, Capela's been played off the floor.

The best version of the Rockets involves Capela in the floor in crunch time situations. Head coach Mike D'Antoni knows this and it's why he continues to give Capela playing time late in games. Playing P.J. Tucker at center has worked out great, but the Rockets have been their best all season with Clint Capela closing games and being a consistent release valve for the offense.

2) Chris Paul has to score

It sounds like such a dumb, simplistic thing to say, but the Rockets need their 9-time All-Star to play like a 9-time All-Star. Eric Gordon has done a fantastic job at picking up the slack on the offensive end, averaging 22.2 points on 61.0% true shooting. However, there are spots on the floor that Gordon can't get to that Paul can.

Paul has been plenty impactful in this series without the scoring, but the Rockets need every bit of vintage Chris Paul they can get if they want a chance at bringing this series back to Oracle Arena. Playing great defense, facilitating the basketball, getting key deflections, and grabbing offensive rebounds is great but 14.6 points on 53.8% true shooting isn't enough for a star of Paul's caliber. It's possible he's lost a step, but Paul can still create separation for tough mid-range jumpers better than anyone on the Rockets.

3) Houston has to dominate the glass

The reason the Rockets won Games 3 and 4 is simple: they won the rebounding battle. Every game this series, the team with the most rebounds has won the game. Giving extra offensive possessions to the best offensive team of all time doesn't make much sense.

The Rockets had several key moments down the stretch of Game 5 where they could not secure a defensive rebound and it cost them dearly. This series has largely come down to a few possessions every game, which is why having as many as you can benefits the Rockets.

4) James Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon have to continue doing what they're doing

Other than a few possessions here and there, James Harden has largely been fantastic in this series. Averaging 34.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals on 59.8% true shooting, there's not much more you could ask for from Harden. He's answered the bell in every way.

P.J. Tucker has been an absolute monster in this series. As a small-ball center for a good percentage of this series, Tucker has grabbed 9.0 rebounds per game with 2.6 of those being offensive. Tucker has been tasked with the job of defending Kevin Durant and has matched up admirably with him and Houston as a team has defended an incredible 19.8 points per 100 possessions better with Tucker on the floor. Tucker is also shooting an insane 47.4% from three-point range in this series.

And Eric Gordon is just stealing the show in this series. Gordon isn't shooting the three-ball very well, but his driving to the rim has kept him extremely efficient. Because of the poor three-point shooting (33.9%), Gordon may be the only one from this group who has room for improvement incredibly enough.




5) Luck

It's unfortunate that we have to talk about injuries being the possible swinging force for a team, but they play a factor. According to Shams Charania, Kevin Durant suffered a right calf strain during Game 5. The Rockets would rather beat the Warriors at full health, but if Durant were to miss Game 6, you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody from the Rockets complaining about not having to play Durant.

Of course, luck doesn't have to come into play with a missed game from Durant. It could also come in the form of a poor shooting night from Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. It could come in the form of hot three-point shooting. Whatever the case, having a little luck go Houston's way would go a long way in tying up this series.

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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