LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Houston Rockets ramped up the intensity 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 pulled down 10 rebounds. 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 signaled 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 as they stepped up the pace and tightened the defensive screws.
“Everything was fueled off our defense,” Gordon said. “We hit the open man at the right time and guys were knocking down shots and when we play that way it’s just a fun game.”
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.
“I don’t want to be cantankerous,” D’Antoni said. “You have one of the best offenses of all time, at least, with Golden State and we’re trying to prove we’re up there with them. You’re not going to come in and change the way you play. “We are who we are. We just did it better and longer.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the Rockets’ energy made all the difference.
“I just think this game was a matter of the Rockets bringing the force that’s necessary to win a game and we didn’t,” Kerr said.
“We had seven turnovers in the first quarter. We set the tone early with our own play and allowed them to get some confidence and some easy buckets in transition.
“But give them the credit they came out and played a great game. They got everybody going. “We got what we deserved. They kicked our butts, no other way to say it.”