HOUSTON - When P.J. Tucker sat there explaining all the reasons why his Houston Rockets were going to be just fine in these Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, there was no way to know if it was propaganda or part of their actual process.
The NBA's best regular season team had been routed by Golden State in Game 1, and anyone who watched the dissection with a discerning eye could tell that the defending champs were fully capable of a repeat performance. But Tucker, who would become a poster boy for the Rockets' turnaround in their 127-105 Game 2 win a day later at the Toyota Center, wasn't having it.
"Um, we didn't do anything (in Game 1)," he told USA TODAY Sports with a laugh. "We had a chance to win that game, and it was probably one of our worse defensive performances all year. We were horrible. Horrible. Bad communication. Running up on our switches. All the stuff that we'd practiced and talked about and done all year, we didn't do it last night. It was definitely a disappointment, and a letdown, but that's why it's a series. It's all us. I mean we really just feel like that. We feel like it was us."
How right he was.
Here's a look at how it happened heading into Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Sunday night and the series now tied 1-1.
Tucker deserves his credit up front here, as he went from being a no-show in Game 1 (one point, 0-3 shooting) to a scoring machine in Game 2 (22 points and five of six from three-point range). For all the focus on the star power in this series, it was Tucker who served as the X-factor during Houston's two regular season wins against the Warriors (he averaged 16 points and 2.5 made threes).
He was signed by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey last summer for games like this, when the combination of his feisty defense and his capable offense would be a game-changer against Golden State. He was hardly the only Rockets role player to change his fortunes, though. Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza, who had just eight points in the opener, had 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.
This, you might say, is what James Harden meant when he said on Tuesday that he can't do this alone. And no one aided that cause more than Eric Gordon. While Harden was having an off-shooting night (nine of 24 for 27 points), the Rockets' super sixth man had 27 points and hit six of nine threes.