Turnovers and Missed Opportunities Doom Warriors, Rockets Take 3-2 Series Lead
With the home crowd on their feet, Eric Gordon stepped to the free throw line with 2.4 seconds left. The objective was simple following a Draymond Green turnover, make both free throws to ice the game. He did just that and as Klay Thompson heaved up a meaningless shot from just over half court, the Toyota Center celebrated a 98-94 victory by the Rockets.
The win puts the Houston Rockets one game away from the NBA Finals and eliminating the defending champion Golden State Warriors with Game 6 coming on Saturday at the Oracle Arena. For the Warriors, this is a position in which they have not experienced in awhile. The last time Golden State trailed a series was the 2016 Western Conference Finals when they were on the brink of elimination down 3-1 in the series to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They managed to pull off the comeback before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, blowing a 3-1 series of their own.
This time around, it was Houston who got off to the fast start on their home floor as they took an early 6-0 lead in the first three minutes. The Warriors missed their first three shots of the night and turned the ball over twice in that span, something that would become a habit for the night. Eventually shrinking the Rocket lead down to two, Houston called a timeout which came before a 9-0 run that gave them a 19-8 lead late in the first. Both teams struggled to get their three-point shooters going early as Golden State was 1-for-6 from behind the arc and Houston a mere 1-for-10. But by the end of the first, the Rockets held a 23-17 edge over the Warriors.
The first quarter momentum carried over the early stages of the second quarter for the Rockets, as they started on a 6-0 run to up their lead back to double-digits. But the Warriors would answer back as the quartter wore on. Trailing by 10 with just under six minutes remaining in the half, Golden State went on a 17-7 run to end the quarter, tying the game as the teams went to the locker room for the halftime break. During this stretch, it was Houston that was playing sloppy with the basketball, something that makes it difficult to beat this Warriors team. In the final six minutes of the half, Houston committed three turnovers which led to three of Golden State's points as well as missing six of their final ten shots in the quarter to give the Warriors some life going into the second half.
The one place where the Rockets have struggled for a majority of the series is the third quarter. They have been unable to stop the third quarter runs that the Warriors attack them with, putting them in a hole heading into the fourth quarter. However, last night was different and the Rockets were able to match the Warriors bucket for bucket throughout the third. Both teams exchanged shots for the entire third quarter with neither team able to get ahead by more than three, a quarter that ended with the Warriors leading 72-71. However, Houston's ability to keep the game close in a quarter where Golden State typically dominates them was crucial to giving them an opportunity to win this game on their home court.
Similar to the third, the two teams continued to attack and never let one another take full control of the game. With just over a minute left and the Warriors trailing by one, Eric Gordon hit a three pointer to give Houston a four point cushion that would not last long as Draymond Green responded with a three of his own following a Golden State timeout. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they were unable to capitalize on opportunities in the final moments of the game. Chris Paul missed a layup which resulted in a hamstring injury that could potentially keep him out of Game 6, the Warriors got the rebound and pushed it up the court. As Green sprinted towards the basket, he kicked it out to a wide open Quinn Cook behind the three-point line on a play in which Chris Paul's injury prevented him from getting back on defense. Cook took a second, fired the three, and missed it as Trevor Ariza got the rebound for Houston. On the other end, James Harden let the shot clock go down before missing a jumper that was out of bounds off Houston. Yet again, the Warriors had a chance as Stephen Curry missed the driving layup that could have given Golden State the lead, but it does not end there.
Following the Curry miss, Trevor Ariza missed one of his two free throws, giving the Rockets a 96-94 lead with 10 seconds remaining. Golden State still had a chance at tying it up and sending it to overtime or winning it. Curry brought the ball up and passed it to Green who slipped, knocking the ball off his knee, turning it over to the Rockets, and sending Eric Gordon to the free throw line where he hit both shots to give the Rockets the Game 5 win.
For the Warriors, this was a game they should have had and stings to lose. They had three opportunities to tie or take the lead in the fianl minute of the game, missing two shots and turning the ball over once. Addtionally, they turned the ball over 18 times in the game which resulted in 10 points for the Rockets. While they made the most of Houston's 12 turnovers to the tune of 18 points, they have to clean up their own mistakes. On the brink of elimination, the Warriors will have to buckle down and play better fundamentally or face the harsh reality of sitting at home instead of playing for a third title in four years. As for the Rockets, they cannot afford to squander this opportunity to knock out the defending champions to make their first NBA Finals since 1995 and the first in the careers of both James Harden and Chris Paul.
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