Harden and Paul are Leaders, EG and PJ are the Reasons they can be Contenders

Tucker and Gordon keys to winning Game 4, series

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Chris Paul and James Harden Tim Warren/Getty Images

We all know that James Harden and Chris Paul are the two best players on this Rockets team. The Beard is a perennial MVP candidate in the NBA seemingly every year and CP3 is one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game. Harden gets most of the attention and deservedly so, and Paul is next in line when it comes to bigtime players that are difference makers, especially in the postseason. The dynamic duo is the reason this squad has evened the series with the Warriors and have a legitimate shot to dethrone the champs. With all that said, this Rockets ship looked like it was stuck in the mud after two games, as questions swirled about who could be counted on to step up and step in to help these two stars compete against Golden State? The answer to that question has been two-fold as Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker have been the heroes that H-town desperately needed to complement their shining stars.

Joel Blank

PJ Tucker has always been the man with a plan to do the majority of the dirty work for Houston. He constantly is charged with guarding the best player on the other team, including Kevin Durant in this series. He also is the heart and soul of the squad when it comes to grit, determination, and effort. He is physical and along with Nene are the two enforcers and "big brothers" that protect and stand up for the rest of the Rockets. Tucker is also a huge part of the H-town air assault when it comes to taking and making open three-point shots when Harden and Paul get double teamed and they kick the ball out to the perimeter. Tucker was 3 for 6 from downtown, made 50% of his shots and finished with 17 points in Game 4 when the Rockets were desperate for their supporting cast to score more. In this series, PJ has stepped it up and taken his game up a notch to be a catalyst to everything the team has been able to do.

Photo: Houston Rockets facebook

The Rockets lacked energy through the first two games and needed a spark to sacrifice his body and get extra possessions, Tucker has stepped up and done so in a big way. His offensive rebounds and tipped balls led to valuable second-chance opportunities in Game 4 and his staunch defensive effort on the much taller, quicker Durant was a key to another frustrating offensive night for the most potent offensive team in the league. The signal caller for the Rockets defense was able to provide stops, rotate and pressure the Warriors all-stars both inside and out and play a huge roll in slowing down the "Dubs" while allowing Red Nation to run. Look at the tape and almost every key defensive play and it's almost guaranteed PJ is somewhere in the middle of the play.

James Harden against the Warriors Rockets.com

Offensively the Rockets are a good team when Harden is leading the way and Paul is directing traffic and making the right decisions with the ball to get open shots and easy baskets. Just get them the ball and get out of the way and the Rockets would get a win in the regular season. Things are different in the playoffs and the postseason is a different animal. Sure, harden and Paul are beasts, but they needed more help to compete and beat a high powered squad like the Warriors.

Eric Gordon Jonathan Daniel

Enter Eric Gordon and his arsenal of ways he can beat you with the ball and watch as this Houston team soared right back into the series. He is averaging 23 points per game in the series and has forced the Warriors to scheme for him and pay attention to him every time Houston has the ball. He has made the dynamic duo into a fearsome threesome when H-town has the ball. That trifecta of EG, CP3 and the Beard take this team to a contending level when he joins the fray is a positive way. When Gordon scores 20 points or more he turns a good team into a great team, a playoff team into a contender. offensively he has been grossly underrated and underappreciated. He has worn Steph Curry down by being physical with him as much as the rules allow and beating him up on the perimeter and pushing him through screens. He is the X-Factor offensively that makes the Rockets hard to beat and Houston has to have him continue to come up huge and fill up the hoop and the stat sheet if they plan on stealing a game in Oakland and winning this massive series that will almost assuredly determine who represents the Western Conference in this years NBA Finals.

Joel Blank

We all know that Mike D' Antoni's rotation shrinks come playoff time and minutes are hard to come by for the reserves. They have struggled all year to find the right mix of complimnetary players to add value to his squad. Sure they have found some valuable players in the buyout market and added some youth that can play their way. At the end of the day, they need to be players the coach can trust and have confidence in. That's why you don't see D'Antoni going much deeper than Austin Rivers and a few spot minutes for Nene and Gerald Green in this post season. For the Rockets to have a shot at winning 2 of the nest 3 against Golden State and win the series, they are going to need more huge games from PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon and valuable spot minutes from the reserves. It's not about second units in the playoffs, it's all about complementary pieces and role players taking their game to another level to allow their team to step up and accomplish big things.

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Dustin Johnson already committed to play in the Houston Open. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Golfers around the world have been able to enjoy playing 18 holes despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as golf has been deemed a "social-distancing" sport. Houston golfers have been rewarded this year with a newly renovated Memorial Park course that is already being spruced up in preparation for the upcoming Houston Open.

The PGA's adjusted schedule has the tour coming to Houston November 2-8, a week before the Masters.

Current hope is for the Houston Open being played in front of cheering fans, according to tournament director, Colby Callaway. Callaway recently talked with SportsMap about what fans and players can expect when the Houston Open returns to Memorial Park for the first time since 1963.

SportsMap: What is the Houston Open's current position in regard to fans in attendance?

Colby Callaway: Currently we are working on a number of contingency plans and exploring all sorts of options. I wish we could say 'this is our plan' right now, and put that thing in concrete, but I just can't. 2020 is causing all of us grief in all sorts of imaginative ways, and it's certainly creating some chaos when it comes to putting a plan together for us. We're all committed to being as flexible in our planning as possible and will adjust as need be. We do think we'll have an idea very soon, and hope to announce some sort of plan over the next couple of weeks.

SM: What can Houstonians look forward to with the new course at Memorial Park?

CC: Well it's a really fun course. Players can absolutely bomb drives. The key will be their approach shots and how they navigate the sticky rough and very tricky green complexes. Several holes were re-routed and in doing so it provided some great spectator viewing areas. There is a fantastic spot where the Par 3 2nd hole, the Par 5 3rdHole, and the Par 3 7th all come together. It'll be a great area to sit and watch golf all day long. The Par 3 9th will be a great viewing spot for spectators as well. On the backside, lots of risk and reward comes into play on 15, 16 and 17. Water becomes a big factor on all 3 holes so a sense of caution is created, but the temptation to do something spectacular is there as well. It's going to be a very exciting stretch.

SM: What changes to the golf course will Memorial Park golfers find following the tournament?

CC: Two things in particular will benefit Memorial Park golfers. First the range will be fully functional by then. It's been open awhile now, but limited in spots to what you could hit club wise. By the time the event rolls around we'll have expanded the range so you can bring and hit any club in your bag. Yes, the big dog (driver) will now be able to hunt!

The other nice addition is an oversized putting green and chipping area that was created adjacent to the 1st tee and 18th green. It's a much-needed improvement. The finished product will be a great spot for the casual golfer to roll some putts and work on his or her short game.

SM: When will Memorial Park Golf Course be closed to the public before the tournament?

CC: The plan is to close it down sometime during the week before the tournament. We'll be working around golfers for approximately 20 days leading up to the event building our operational needs. As a casual golfer it's a fun time to play. There is definitely a little more activity in and around the course, but it's a lot of fun to watch the progress of the build.

SM: What special COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place during the tournament?

CC: We'll have a plan above and beyond what is required per the rules and guidelines we are given. We are currently working with our operational partners to make sure we're all on the same page when it some to these regulations. I can promise we'll error on the side of caution, and make sure our patrons feel safe when they enter the grounds. The positive is we have over 250 acres of green grass and fresh air to socially distance on. A golf course truly does have its advantages.

SM: Are you under any pressure to bring fans to the tournament because of its placement a week before the Masters?

CC: I don't think so. Speaking for our team, I know they don't feel any pressure. Maybe if this was a different year, and we didn't have all of the uncertainty swirling around, there would be some. It's just not something we are going to put any energy into worrying about this fall. We have enough on our plate.

SM: In prior years, Golf Club of Houston made efforts to replicate conditions at Augusta National. Will you be doing the same?

CC: No. Honestly even if we wanted to we couldn't. With the time of year we are in it's really impossible to over-seed, and that's the only way to create those iconic Masters-like conditions. Now we'll do everything asked of us by the TOUR to make it the best 2020 Houston Open course condition wise. They ultimately put the competition plan together. That plan includes among other things: required rough height, green speeds, and tee to green yardages. I know Jason Harsh, Director of Golf for the Houston Parks and Rec Department, will have his team prepare the course to the best of their abilities. One plus when you are a course that hosts a PGA TOUR event is you receive year-long plans and assistance from the PGA TOUR Agronomy Department. That's big for the event, but also a nice plus for all of us who enjoy playing Memorial year around. Following these plans course conditions will continue to get better and better each year.

SM: You have a lot of experience managing golf tournaments, most recently serving as the tournament director of AT&T's PGA Tour Champions event in San Antonio. How will your experiences help you to execute a successful Houston Open?

CC: It's crazy to think this is my 20th year being a part of a team that manages professional golf events. Even crazier to think that less than a year ago I felt like I had seen it all when it comes to things that could affect golf tournaments. I've worked events since 2000 that have experienced tornadoes, floods, hail, high winds, sleet, drought, dead greens, etc… but no one ever said we'd deal with a pandemic. Good Lord, maybe I've stayed in the business a little too long!

Kidding aside, fortunately I've spent most of those 20 years working for and with some of the best in the business. I've kept my eyes and ears open, and maybe most importantly learned to adapt to the situation at hand. Concrete plans do not exist in the professional golf world as Mother Nature will always have the last say. You put a plan together, but always must remain fluid and have contingency plans in your back pocket. Of course, this is unlike anything I've ever had to deal with. We will, however, figure this out and do our best to put on a really successful, and safe, Houston Open.

SM: The Astros Foundation is well known to support youth baseball and softball programs, how will the new partnership between the Foundation and the Houston Open bring more opportunities to junior golf in Houston?

CC: Junior golfers will benefit greatly from the Houston Open moving to Memorial Park. The Astros Golf Foundation is finishing up a par 3 course, which sits adjacent to the 1st fairway and 18th fairway, that will allow participants in the First Tee program an opportunity to hone their skills year around.

The Astros Golf Foundation will continue to support the First Tee financially as well with a yearly donation of $500K. The First Tee is an incredible program and I know our team loves being a part of their growth.

Also via a generous partnership with Chevron, the Astros Golf Foundation is building the Chevron Center for Education & Kids. This classroom style space will be housed in the new Astros Golf Foundation building currently under construction behind the 9th green at Memorial Park. This center will be open year around and will host students from all over the Houston area teaching them skills within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) academic disciplines.

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