Houston isn’t done just yet.
The Rockets finally got in the win column in the Western Conference Finals on Monday, beating the Warriors in Game 4, 128-115, behind 45 points from James Harden. They still trail 3-1 in the series, but it was an encouraging performance after losing Game 3 by 35 points at home.
“This team was the second seed in a very tough Western Conference, and they really fought through adversity all year,” Washington Post national NBA reporter Michael Lee said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I just think they basically put themselves in a situation where they had to come out and play with some heart and they had to come out with some fight. Because otherwise, all that they had worked for, all that they had invested in this season, it kind of would have been for nothing if you’re going to not compete at the most important time of the year.
“I think they have a little bit of pride,” Lee continued. “James Harden is a really competitive guy. He was runner-up in the MVP ballot. I don’t think he wanted to be completely showed up by Stephen Curry. But I just think overall, people didn’t want to give the Rockets a lot of credit for how good they’ve been all year, and to come out with such a terrible performance after really being competitive in the first two games in Oakland, I just think it’s more about pride than anything.”
Scott Ferrall couldn’t believe the beatdown the Rockets took in Game 3 after playing two great games at ORACLE, ultimately losing both by a combined five points. Ferrall thought for sure the Rockets would come out strong in Houston.
Lee, however, thought it could go either way.
“I think the thing that kept them in those first two games was James Harden was hitting an incredible array of difficult, tough shots,” he said. “Eventually, those shots weren’t going to fall. It’s just unfortunate they all didn’t fall in the same game.”
Harden shot 3-of-16 from the floor and scored 17 points in Game 3.
“I think he’s really the heartbeat of that team,” Lee said. “If he’s not going well, then the whole thing kind of falls apart. So he was playing very poorly and I think the team just followed his lead. I just think that was one of those flukey games that happens in the playoffs. They’ve had some clunkers in this playoffs. It’s not like the Rockets haven’t had a couple stinkers. They did in the first round against Dallas. Obviously they had two really bad games in the Clippers series that made everyone think that they were frauds, but I think they came back and redeemed themselves very well by winning that series. And they were competitive in the first two games. It was just one of those flukey nights where Steph was on and Harden couldn’t hit anything.”
Still, the Rockets face an uphill climb against the best team in basketball. The Warriors, who host Game 5 on Wednesday, are clear favorites to advance to the NBA Finals and face Cleveland, which is up 3-0 against Atlanta despite the absence of Kevin Love and, lately, Kyrie Irving.
“It’s put a huge burden on LeBron to do everything,” Lee said. “It’s draining on him. You saw him collapse to his knees at the end of that game.”
James had an epic triple-double in Game 3 – 37 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists and three steals – in leading the Cavs to a 114-111 overtime win Sunday night. The Cavs can close out the series at home in Game 4 on Tuesday.
“You’re just seeing a guy right now who is really going all in on his commitment to this city and this franchise,” Lee said. “When he said he was coming back home, he wanted to bring a championship to Cleveland, and I don’t think anybody can deny his commitment, especially by the way he’s been playing.”