THE Z REPORT

Lance Zierlein: 3 simple steps for the Rockets to bounce back and win Game 2

Somebody freaking cover Klay Thompson. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Is the sky falling? Frankly, maybe it is. James Harden put together a huge Game 1 and Chris Paul added 23 points and 11 rebounds and they still lost by double digits. How do you stop Kevin Durant? How do you keep Klay Thompson and Steph Curry from finding their rhythms and burying you this series?

Look, this is going to be a difficult series to win, but it’s not impossible and Game 1 also showed that the Rockets could definitely matchup with the Warriors - they just struggled to do it in the third quarter which was enough to turn that game into a boat race.

How to Erase -13

When you look up at the scoreboard and see a loss by 13 points, at home no less, it looks insurmountable. Maybe it will turn out to be a foreshadowing of the series. I know that the entire TNT crew seems to believe that Game 1 was representative of how this series will look, but it doesn’t have to.

Over the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rockets were +4 in the turnover differential but they found themselves on the other end of that number in the series opener after turning it over 13 times and forcing just 9. The Rockets must win the turnover battle because the entire key to beating a team with elite shooting is to take away some of their possessions. Houston won the rebound battle, but must pair that a “W” in the turnover column as well. Win the turnover battle and that is worth at least four points.

The next step is to actually not lose Klay Thompson in the half-court sets. WTF?! When 4 of Thompson’s 6 3-point makes are wide-open you are going to lose. These shots are basically layups for him. If the Rockets can eliminate some of those defensive breakdowns, maybe two of those baskets go away and that would be worth six points.

 

And is it too much to ask Luc Mbah a Moute to make an actual layup? After going 0-for-6 including five missed chipies near the basket, he’s got to finish when he gets near the rim. Hell, the entire team needs to finish when they have easy looks near the rim. If he had made just two of those six shots, we are talking about four more points.

Winning turnover battle

+4 points

Actually guarding Klay Thompson 3s

+6 points

Making two easy layups at basket

+4 points

New Point Differential

+14 points


We haven’t even talked about how the Rockets shot free throws poorly and they allowed too many easy back-cuts to the basket for layups. I’m not telling you that the Rockets are going to win the series or even Game 2 (although they are favorites again), but I am telling you that those 13 points aren’t as insurmountable as you might think.

 

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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