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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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.

Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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