The Houston Rockets’ defensive woes have been well documented this season. Countless videos of James Harden standing by as his opponents have cruised past him to the basket have become fodder for critics. Now, as Houston face the most powerful offense in NBA history, changes were required heading into the series against the Golden State Warriors, and in the first quarter on Saturday afternoon, they started down a path that enraged the local fans and put targets on the backs of a number of players.
It became clear early in the first quarter that the Rockets had devised a plan for dealing with Golden State — that was to play a physical style of basketball that would rattle the defending champions. They were never going to be able to keep up with the Dubs’ ball movement and get out to all of their shooters. This way they could get into the heads of their opponents, and work on creating more turnovers which had been the crack in the amour for the Warriors all season.
Post game, Rockets’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, “It’s the playoffs. It’s going to be physical. We don’t mind playing physical, we don’t mind the other team playing physical. The game shouldn’t be dirty by any means, but there’s nothing wrong with playing physical.”
Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said that he expected the the game to be a lot more physical because “it’s the playoffs. There’s two teams that want to win, and there’s going to be physical plays. It’s to be expected.”
Not many defenders have been able to handle Stephen Curry on offense this season, but Patrick Beverley was going to give it a shot. Only a few minutes into the game that facade ended, with a rattled Curry involved in an altercation with Beverley which saw both players handed technical fouls. The Warriors faithful were on their feet making sure Beverley knew that he had just made himself 20,000 new enemies, but he had clearly gotten to the reigning MVP.
Curry relived the altercation post game: “There was a little back and forth, we got tangled up. I felt it was a little too much so I protected myself.
“He’s an aggressive player, he plays hard. He tries to get under your skin with certain things he does but that’s kind of his game, I wouldn’t call it dirty at all.”
It was only a few minutes later that this was followed up with Josh Smith stepping into the lane on a Curry backdoor cut and flattening the Warriors’ guard.
Speaking on Beverley after the game Kerr said, “I didn’t see, I wasn’t locked in on the exchange so I don’t really know what happened. But that’s to be expected. It’s Playoffs, both guys are competitive.
“Beverley is a good defender and that’s what he does, he tries get under your skin and he’s just doing his job.”
Talking about how the Rockets decided to play Curry in this game Kerr also said: “It’s what I would do. I would try to hold him, and grab him and do anything I could to keep him from getting into a rhythm and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
This aggressive play continued, but it didn’t effect Curry, if anything it just increased his level of focus and he went on to finish the first quarter with 16 points, and end up with 24 at the half. Curry didn’t return in the second half due to a tweaked ankle, but the job was already done.
Speaking about how the tactics may have motivated Curry on the court, coach Bickerstaff said: “I don’t think you can get him more motivated, he’s motivated as it is. He’s hungry for a championship. That’s all they’re looking for and thinking about.”
On the other end of the floor, Dwight Howard was making his presence felt. As the main scoring option in the first half after James Harden could only manage 4 points, Howard set the tone early, playing Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli close on his way to leading the Rockets in scoring at the half.
After the game Howard said, “It’s part of the game, it’s the playoffs. Emotions are going to be high and I’m going to get chippy out there. I think we allowed it to get us a little frustrated though.”
The Rockets’ aggression continued into the fourth term for Howard as this time he took out his frustration on Andre Iguodala by way of a forearm to the face which was followed by another altercation between Draymond Green and Montiejunas resulting in more technical fouls. Montiejunas was a man on a mission to crash into, and intimidate as many players as he could while in the game, but if anything he only assisting in growing an already insurmountable Warriors lead.
“Teams are going to try to rough you up” said Draymond Green. “It wasn’t more than what we expected.”
As far as matching up against a physical team Green added, “You have to match it or you’ll get ran off the floor. You can’t let somebody come and push you around and you don’t push back. That’s the game we play, and if you don’t match that, you’re in trouble.”
Kerr said he was proud of his team in handling the physicality in the game “The way they reacted with poise and physical play themselves without doing anything dirty was physical and solid, and that’s the way to respond.”
The next game of this series is set to take place back at Oracle Arena on Monday, and after taking a beating in Game 1, it remains to be seen if the Rockets stick with their aggressive tactics moving forward, or try another tactic to shut down the Golden State offense.
Featured Image – Houston Culturemap
Story Image – Inquisitr