SportsPulse: We have ourselves a series now. USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers breaks down the Rockets’ win over the Warriors in Game 3 and what it means for the series.
HOUSTON — Austin Rivers and P.J. Tucker, two increasingly influential cogs in the Houston Rockets’ machine, spelled out their team’s blueprint after narrowing their series deficit against the Golden State Warriors to 2-1 on Saturday night.
Their mission: turn this enthralling Western Conference semifinal into basketball warfare.
Rivers pulled no punches on the court in an overtime victory and was equally forthright when he spoke afterwards. He wants his colleagues to match each and every one of what they see as the Warriors’ questionable physical tricks, and to do it with even more assertiveness and venom.
“Just (be) physical because that’s what they do,” Rivers said, when asked about the value of an ultra-intense approach. “(The Warriors) push off, they pull, if you are not looking they will push you literally right in front of the ref, and then get an open three.
“They are a very aggressive team. I thought we were aggressive (in Game 3) and the (referees) aren’t going to call them all. You’ve got to be aggressive in the playoffs.”
Rivers’ detailing of the team’s fresh mentality was backed up by Tucker, who hounded his Warriors rivals when competing for rebounds (collecting 12 of them) all through Saturday’s 126-121 win.
Tucker was seen repeatedly extolling more edge from his teammates on the court and believes the two-time defending champions can be thrown off their game if Houston cranks things up an extra notch.
“We have got to fight,” Tucker said. “To beat them you got to fight to the last second. Fight for every possession, fight for every 50-50 ball the whole game.
“We got to play harder than this. We won but it is not enough. Be more aggressive. Be closer to Steph Curry when he’s dribbling, get into (Kevin Durant) when he is dribbling, hit people on box outs. It is basketball , not rocket science.”
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Each of the three games so far have been fiercely contested but Game 3 was the most physical of the lot, despite the fact that the previous game saw James Harden left with a bloodied eye and blurred vision after being raked by Draymond Green. Tucker himself has a split eyelid but doesn’t remember on which play he got it, and brushed it off like it was no big deal. Compared to Harden’s scarlet eyeball — scary enough to make you want to hold your kids close — maybe it isn’t.
While much of the early focus was on the officiating, there have been no such complaints recently. The series has turned into a survival of the fittest, Houston is relishing the challenge, and the Warriors know they need to respond.
“Just be ready for another battle,” Andre Iguodala said, when asked about his mindset going into Monday’s Game 4. “The (physicality) was expected; they did a good job of responding and taking advantage of a few things. They are going to continue to have that and will try to come out with a good punch on Monday.”
Houston looked like toast when they returned to Texas with a two-game deficit and could easily have found themselves in a 3-0 hole. Instead, they have everything to play for, and a clear mindset on how they are going to go about it.
“We are in good spirits but no one was celebrating,” Rivers added. “When we came back in (the locker room) we were quiet. We are playing the best team in the league and we are trying to be the best team in the league. To do that the focus has got to be high. Every game is going to be a dogfight.”