HOUSTON - How did Houston stay alive in the Western Conference finals?
By destroying Golden State's vaunted death lineup.
The box score from the Rockets' 127-116 win in Game 2 reads more like an obituary for the NBA's most celebrated grouping, as that once-feared five-some of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green was dominated in the kind of way we have simply never seen. This was the small-ball starting lineup that was supposed to be unmatched, the Warriors' secret weapon that was nicknamed the "Hamptons Five" by The Athletic sportswriter Tim Kawakami after Golden State recruited Durant in said location two summers ago.
Yet here were the Rockets defending with their hair on fire, as assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik put it, taking it to the Warriors in the kind of meaningful way that just might change the course of this clash. On this night, they beat Golden State at its own game. Behold the before and after...
Five games with that lineup in the playoffs heading into Game 2, per NBA.com/stats:
The 22 disastrous minutes in which they all played in Game 2:
And how's this for perfect timing?
Word broke this week, courtesy of the New York Times, that the Hamptons house Durant rented as his free agency headquarters in the summer of 2016 is on the market for nearly $15 million. At this rate, Rockets forward P.J. Tucker should buy the lot - if only for the sake of symbolism.
Tucker, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal to join Houston last summer, is the key to the Rockets' lesser-known small-ball lineup that also includes Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza. The locals call Houston's version the "Tuck-wagon," a hat tip to a former Rockets player who was also a feisty, if undersized, defender and used to play that role, the retired Chuck Hayes (aka Chuck-wagon). And after swearing on Tuesday that Game 1 was an outlier, and that the Rockets were still fully capable of derailing this Warriors dynasty, Tucker did his part to prove it.
The "Tuck-wagon" lineup, which takes 6-foot-10 center Clint Capela out while bringing the reigning Sixth Man of the Year (Gordon) in and puts the 6-5 Tucker at center, had a net rating of 30.2 in 10 minutes together, an offensive rating of 125.2 (Golden State's 112.3 led the regular season) and a defensive rating of 95.
"That's my favorite lineup," Tucker, who had 22 points and hit five three-pointers after scoring one point in Game 1, told USA TODAY Sports afterwards. "We feel like we're the best at that, when we go small. We feel like nobody can do what we do. You want to go small? Alright, fine. We'll go small too. And like I said, our small lineup is the best in the league."