Rockets dominate to level NBA series with Warriors

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the first half in game two of the Western conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. (Reuters/USA Today pic)

LOS ANGELES: The Houston Rockets bounced back with a vengeance on Wednesday, powering past the NBA champion Golden State Warriors 127-105 to level their Western Conference finals series at one game apiece.

Houston’s Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden scored 27 points and Eric Gordon added 27 off the bench as five players scored in double figures for a Rockets team chastened by a 119-106 series-opening defeat on their home floor on Monday.

“Total team effort,” Harden said. “We played harder and smarter than game one. That was the only difference.”

The Rockets signalled their intentions early. Their seven fast-break points in the opening quarter more than doubled the three they mustered in all of game one.

Houston connected on three-of-10 from three-point range in the first period while the Warriors were zero-for-seven and coughed up seven turnovers.

Up 26-21 after one quarter, the Rockets wouldn’t trail from there. They led 64-50 by halftime, with four players already in double figures.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said there was no major change in strategy — just more intensity and better execution from a Houston team that led the league with 65 regular-season wins.

“We played harder, we got into them,” D’Antoni said. “We didn’t have that same intensity in that first game. Our guys are great, they learned from it, snapped back and did the job.”

Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 38 points, but Stephen Curry was the only other Golden State player in double figures with 16.

Curry connected on just seven of 19 shots from the floor, making just one of eight three-point attempts.

Overall the Warriors were just nine of 30 from three-point range. They finished the game with 15 turnovers — 11 of those coming before halftime, by which time most of the damage was done.

PJ Tucker, who scored just one point in game one, scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half for Houston. Trevor Ariza, another who struggled in game one, added 19 points and Chris Paul scored 16 for the Rockets.

“Defensively we were more aggressive. We were smarter,” said Harden, whose Rockets travel to Oakland for game three on Sunday with renewed confidence.

“We still made some mistakes that we can get better at,” Harden said. “We know how tough it is to win (at Golden State) but we’re ready for it.”

The winners of the series will face either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Celtics lead the Eastern Conference finals 2-0.