After scoring just 80 points in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets erupted for 45 points in Game 4 – in the first quarter.
How does that happen?
“Some of it was just really crazy shot-making by the percentages,” Sports Illustrated senior NBA writer Rob Mahoney said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I think they missed one three-pointer out of eight or nine attempts in the first quarter. You expect that from some of those guys – Trevor Ariza or James Harden or Jason Terry. But when Josh Smith is hitting multiple threes in a quarter, you know something is going right.”
The Warriors didn’t do much to help their cause. The best defensive team in the league in the regular season, Golden State didn’t seem as focused as it typically is and was kind of all over the place.
“There’s even some of the guys who are better individual defenders on the team who weren’t where they were supposed to be, who weren’t handling their assignments like they were supposed to,” Mahoney said. “Both teams definitely played a part in just how explosive the Rockets looked in that first quarter.”
The second quarter was almost as eventful, as MVP Stephen Curry took a dangerous spill under the basket, landing helplessly on his neck and head area.
“It went dead very quickly, as things tend to do in those kind of situations,” Mahoney said. “I credit fans in the Toyota Center. They responded appropriately, whereas some fans in some arenas . . . you’ve seen some really gross things from people who will heckle or cheer or do whatever. The fans who were in attendance really did a great job of kind of keeping everything in check. Everyone was very anxious and nervous. It was a scary situation. I think they gave the moment its due.”
Curry returned to the game – which shocked Mahoney – and finished with 23 points in a 128-115 loss.
“The angle he fell, you wouldn’t really expect at all that he would return,” Mahoney said. “But the Warriors team doctors are not going to take something like this lightly. This is a team that’s not going to risk his well-being for the sake of winning a game that they don’t really have to win. They’re so in command of this series. They really could afford to drop this one if they needed to and go home and take care of business to extend this series as long as it needs to. But getting Steph (taken care of), I think, had to have been their first priority.”
With the Warriors up 3-1 on the Rockets and the Cavaliers up 3-0 on the Hawks, people are already looking ahead to the NBA Finals. Mahoney expects Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes – and possibly others – to all get a crack at guarding LeBron James, just to mix up his looks.
Mahoney believes the Warriors should be favored – perhaps heavily so.
“I think if Kyrie Irving were healthy, if Kevin Love were healthy, this would be more of a potential series,” Mahoney said. “But as it looks now, with Kyrie limited and with Love out and with LeBron having to do a hell of a lot with role players around him who have been good – (it’s going to be tough). Against the Warriors, I just don’t see that team holding up. I think Golden State definitely has the defensive chops to stop them.”