NBA PLAYOFFS

John Granato: Rockets showed off some new toys in Game 2, and it was like Christmas morning

P.J. Tucker was a big factor. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t want to accuse anyone of lying but since we were kids we were told that some lies are OK: little white lies that keep us from hurting other people’s feelings and lies we benefit from like the ones on Christmas morning.  After Game 1 we were told that that’s who the Rockets were. They were an isolation team. That’s what they did to win 65 games and they weren’t going to change now. Maybe they were still an isolation team last night but you’re lying to yourself if you think that was the same offense we saw on Monday night.

My favorite possession of the season: up 11 with 4:36 left in the first half James Harden runs the ball up the court. Before Andre Iguodala can get set Harden drives into the lane and creates some space. He hits Eric Gordon at the 3-point line. He hits Chris Paul on the wing. Paul drives by Curry and hits James at the left 3-point line. He swings it to Ariza in the left corner who pump fakes the defender and dribbles toward the hoop, stops and hits Gordon who drains the 3.

The crowd erupts.

That was wonderful basketball. That was what this team can and has to do to win this series.

It was so good Charles Barkley actually said something nice about the Rockets. He finally admitted that this team could not only compete but could beat the Warriors. He also said that the Game 2 version did not resemble the Game 1 version. And he was right.

We were told that the supporting cast just wasn’t good enough, that James had to command the basketball, had to do it all because the other guys sucked. Granted, they weren’t very good in Game 1. It was amazing that they scored 106.

Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Gerald Green and Luc Mbah Moute were a combined 5 for 22. That’s bad. Why would you want to move the ball around and give it to those guys?

Game 2 is why.

While James did James things the other guys got to do their thing too. Back in the day when the Bulls owned the NBA, Michael Jordan knew how to get everyone involved. Of course Scottie Pippin and Toni Kukoc would get their fair share of shots but Mike made sure the role players would get a taste as well. It was a lock that in the first three or four possessions of a big game Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright would get touches in the low post. They might not get any more but Mike knew those touches would keep them engaged the rest of the night.

It’s not that Ariza and Tucker didn’t try in Game 1. But it ain’t easy to hit a shot when you only get three in 48 minutes. It’s tough to get into any kind of rhythm watching James dribble down shot clock after shot clock.

Last night TNT put up a graphic that was jaw dropping. In Game 1 James dribbled 550 times. Curry, Durant and Thompson combined for 549 dribbles. 550 dribbles??!!! That’s a ton but it seemed more like 8000. That’s not good basketball.

After Game 1 Coach D’Antoni told us they weren’t going to change their style after a 65 win season. After Game 2 he stuck to his guns.

“Oh yeah,” he sarcastically told reporters. “We went from the wide open California offense to the triple threat. No. We did exactly what we did. We played harder. We got into them. They felt us physical. We didn’t have that same intensity in the first game. Our guys are great and they learned from (Game 1), snapped back and did the job.”

First of all I think he meant the triple option, not the triple threat. That’s a radio show not an offense.

Second, saying they were the same in Game 1 as they were in Game 2 is like saying Les Miles’ offense is the same as Mike Leach’s. Sure they both use a football and 11 players but that’s where the similarities end.

Quite frankly, that’s a pretty good analogy. In Game 1 James Harden was Leonard Fournette running for 202 yards in a 10-6 loss to Alabama. He got his but no one else was involved. They used all of the play clock and even had some delay of games because they didn’t get out of the huddle in time. LSU has proven time and again they can beat Alabama every once in a great while playing like that but not in the biggest games. And it’s boring as hell.

In Game 2 they turned into a high flying, pass happy offense where they spread it all over the field and got everyone involved. The defense had no idea where they were coming from and guys were running wide open all alone for easy scores. They played up tempo, no huddle. They opened up the run game by throwing passes instead of the other way around. And they scored at will. The only difference is that unlike Texas Tech the Rockets played defense too.

The only similarities offensively in Games 1 and 2 is that they both used a basketball. I’m OK with Coach telling us it was the same. I’ve been lied to before. I knew who bought my Christmas presents. If mom and dad wanted Santa to get the credit I was cool with it as long as I got what I wanted.

Last night was Christmas morning for all of us. We opened up a couple toys called early offense and basketball passes. Let’s play with them for a while.


 

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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