The Houston Rockets got on the playoff board Thursday night, beating the Curry-less Warriors, 97-96, in Game 3 of their first-round series.

The Rockets took Game 3 after losing Games 1 and 2 by a combined 35 points.

“I figured they’d be better tonight,” Houston Chronicle Rockets writer Jenny Dial Creech said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I figured they’d figure out a way to win one of these at home, but man, the Warriors made it tough there at the end. I’m really shocked at the last 30 seconds and how it all came together.”

Houston led by 17 in the first half but needed a James Harden jumper with 2.7 seconds left to get the victory. Harden finished with 35 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and two steals.

The Rockets, who fell to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last season, needed Game 3 to have any chance in the series going forward.

“The Rockets obviously haven’t been the team we thought they would be this year,” Dial Creech said, “but there have been glimpses of it, and they usually come (when they feel they’ve) got something to prove. We’ve had a losing streak, things are going against us – that’s when we see them play their best. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to string together a great season. You can’t lose two or three in a row and then feel like you’re going to bring it. I just thought the mood in practice yesterday and even at shoot-around before the game was very reminiscent of the Rockets when they beat the Clippers this year, when they beat the Spurs this year, when they beat Oklahoma City this year. You had that feeling and that mood that they were going to put something together. The trouble is, though, they really haven’t been able to string any of those games together all season long, so I’m not sure that this makes a huge impact in the series when it’s all said and done. And let’s not forget Steph Curry wasn’t playing. Had he been, I think it would have been a different outcome.”

With Curry likely returning to the lineup sooner rather than later, Houston still faces an uphill climb.

Dial Creech expects quite a few changes this offseason.

“I think J.B. Bickerstaff has done a good job with what he’s had, but they threw him into the fire,” she said. “I think the chemistry in the locker room, it’s just off. It doesn’t feel the same in there. I’m not sure who to pinpoint that on, but you have to look at the two stars of the team – Harden and Howard – and I’m just not sure that that combination is what it needs to be for this team to really be great. So I expect a lot of changes in the offseason because keeping that group together obviously didn’t do anything for them.”

Dial Creech believes that Howard, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds on Thursday, will opt out of his contract after the season.

“I think that’s what everyone expects,” she said. “We’ll see. I think Dwight Howard likes Houston. I think he likes the city, and quite frankly, I’ve seen a lot of growth in him personally. A lot of the young guys really rally around him. I think he brings a lot to the table. That said, the Rockets are going to put all their eggs into James Harden’s basket. Harden’s not going anywhere. I think (Harden and Howard) get along. I don’t think (there’s drama). I just think there’s obviously something between the two of them that doesn’t quite work all the time – and we see it on the court.”


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