Houston Rockets seek revenge, waiting for the Warriors in round two

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
NBA Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

After taking care of the Utah Jazz, the Houston Rockets, seeking revenge, await the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs

The Houston Rockets are advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the third consecutive season after defeating the Utah Jazz, 4-1.

James Harden just went through one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, but it didn’t matter because the Rockets’ bench rallied around the former MVP.

During Game 3 in Salt Lake City, Harden missed his first 15 field goal attempts, the first time in his career.

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With eight points all due to free throws, entering the fourth quarter, he then converted his first field goal on a monumental two-hand slam off a Clint Capela steal to get his mamba mentality in motion with 7:34 remaining in the contest.

The very next possession, Harden hit a 29-foot step-back 3-pointer that silenced the crowd, and he finished with seven points in the final 1:56 to score 14 of his 22 points in the fourth to beat Utah, 104-101.

When the games were down to the wire in Games 3 and 5, and his offensive performance was being questioned, The Beard answered all the doubters.

The Rockets entered the playoffs as the four seed after being the one seed last year, but Houston is clearly the second best team in the West.

Before facing off against the Warriors in the second round, Houston will get a minimum of three days rest and at least seven days if the Clippers force a Game 7.

All the rest will give the Rockets plenty of time to plot their revenge on a Warriors team, which looks more vulnerable than ever, that eliminated them in the Western Conference Finals in 2018.

It’s not just because the Warriors’ four-time all-star DeMarcus Cousins tore his left quadriceps muscle during the Game 2 meltdown loss to the Clippers. Which by the way, they were up by 31 before losing. The 3-1 joke lives on – classic Warriors.

Not even because the Clippers rallied back again and beat the Warriors to force a Game 6 in Los Angeles.

And it’s surely not because of impending free agency talk, with Kevin Durant squarely at the center of it all.

It’s because the Warriors bench won’t be able to handle the pressure and keep up with the scoring from the Rockets bench.

Behind the numbers, the Rockets have a clear advantage with their bench rotation. Under the Steve Kerr era, this is absolutely the weakest bench and most inexperienced rotation for the Warriors outside their starting five.

For Houston, Eric Gordon (15.3 PPG) and P.J. Tucker (13 PPG) are the third and fourth leading scorers on the team after the first round vs. Utah. The lone Warrior to average double-digits off the bench is Andre Iguodala at 10.5 per game.

Tucker hit huge free throws late in multiple games and had a career-high four blocks in the game-clinching victory against Utah to show he can be trusted late in the game to be with the starters, and we know what former Sixth Man of the Year (2017) Eric Gordon can do off the bench.

For the Warriors, it’s Jordan BellQuinn Cook, Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, and Jonas Jerebko contributing off the bench.

The Rockets bench of Gordon, Tucker, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Danuel House Jr., and mid-season acquisition Kenneth Faried are the supporting cast for Harden and Chris Paul. That bench group averaged 48.6 points per game in total off the bench.

Harden himself averaged 36.1 points per game himself, seventh of all-time. Only players that have scored more are Wilt Chamberlain (five times) and Michael Jordan (once).

Houston had the second highest offensive efficiency in the league (112.5) behind Golden State (113.9) and will need every bit of it after a defensive series with Utah.

Both teams are expected to put on an offensive show, but whichever team pressures the ball and plays lockdown perimeter and interior defense will come out the winner.

That’s why Clint Capela will be the X-Factor of the series. His matchups with Andrew Bogut, Bell, and Looney could be a potential feast. Capela averaged 15 points and 14.8 rebounds vs. Golden State in their four matchups this season.

Against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz, Capela averaged a double-double with 10.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series. Those numbers are almost identical to what he did against the Warriors last year (10.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG) in their seven-game series.

The two heavyweights saw each other four times this season, and the Rockets got the best of the Warriors in three of those contests. Houston took the first three games of the season series by 21, one, and six.

James Harden hit the game-winning 3 in the January 3rd matchup; arguably the best shot of the year, then sat out the next meeting on February 23rd at Golden State. Houston still won by six without the reigning MVP, relying heavily on the bench.

Golden State won the final matchup of the season on March 13th, 106-104 behind a pair of Stephen Curry game-winning free throws. Cousins’ led the Warriors in their only win against the Rockets this year with 27 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.

In what could be the Warriors most difficult second-round playoff series in team history, the Rockets have possibly the best opportunity of any team to knock off the reigning champs.

A second-round series win for Houston over Golden State would put a stamp of validity to Harden’s ability to lead a team and make his teammates better as well as almost guarantee back-to-back MVP’s.

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Not to mention, it would be the greatest series win in Rockets history that didn’t involve winning an NBA Championship.

Houston is out for revenge against Golden State, and this might finally be the year a Western Conference team delivers the fatal blow and takes down one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.