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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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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