The Houston Rockets' performance in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals is exactly why they were so quickly dismissed as a threat to the Golden State Warriors even before the series began.
Despite playing at home after a close loss on the road in Game 2, Houston just came out looking like a team that had already accepted their fate as runner-up to one of the best pro basketball teams in history. And with the Warriors now holding a commanding 3-0 lead — perhaps made even more intimidating by the 35-point way they mounted it — the Rockets are in the impossible position of needing to win four consecutive games to advance.
After the Warriors withstood everything the New Orleans Pelicans threw at them in the first round and overcame what appeared to be their big moment of truth in the second round, the Rockets are quickly headed toward historical irrelevance — like one of those games in Hoosiers where they just show the score scrolling and fading into the next one without even bothering with any game action.
None of that is to say the Rockets are a bad team, but that they're a team that has yet to prove at any point this season that they can beat the Warriors. There's no question that the presence of Patrick Beverley might have impacted this series similar to how Tony Allen did in the Grizzlies series; Donatas Motiejunas might have given them some frontcourt muscle on the boards (according to Basketball-Reference, Houston is losing the rebounding battle this series). Yet after the way the Warriors dismantled them in Game 3 it's just hard to argue that they'd have won the game even at full strength.
If Patrick Beverley is the difference in this series, he's gotta be the MVP
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 24, 2015
Perhaps tonight we'll see what many people expected to see in Game 3: a little more heart, a little more fight (especially on the boards) and a win to avoid being swept out of the conference finals.
Coach Nick's breakdown of Game 3 (video above) shows some basic tactical challenges that Houston faces even if they can bring max effort for 48 minutes. They simply cannot deal with the screening action the Warriors are executing off the ball. After seemingly finding renewed interest in defense in Games 1 and 2, James Harden went right back to being the liability he has gained a reputation for in Game 3, getting completely lost on the simplest of #basketball plays. Meanwhile, Jason Terry was severely overmatched by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had his best all-around performance of this series (and given what he has done defensively, you could argue it was among the best of this entire postseason).
So Coach Nick framed Houston's challenge perfectly: "Can you hold down Klay and Curry for four games in a week and win a series? But the other question begs to be asked, 'Can you stop Curry from going off four times in a week?'"
Right now, the Rockets haven't figured out how to do either even once. That inherent challenge has only been compounded by the fact that the Rockets haven't been able to establish a major advantage on the boards this series, which is something they should be very unhappy about.
Howard, voice cracking, "We just have to man up. We can't quit on each other."
— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) May 24, 2015
And even if they do figure things out, playing the rest of the games in this series is almost a formality: with the Cleveland Cavaliers beating the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals to take a 3-0 lead of their own, the rest of this round is just the undercard for a matchup between Curry and LeBron James.
At this point, I just hope Houston plays with some pride as a fan of NBA basketball.