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HOUSTON — Any lauding of the Houston Rockets‘ resilience in Game 4 on Tuesday at Oracle Arena begins with an acknowledgment of their defense [url=http://www.detroitlionsteamonline.com]Lions Authentic Jerseys[/url] , with cliched adjectives serving the general purpose of explaining how they overcame a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit to claim victory and square the Western Conference Finals before the series relocated back to Toyota Center.
But for a series rife with adjustments, the truth of how Houston salvaged its championship aspirations lies within the minutiae. Methodically and stubbornly, the Rockets have invited the Warriors to play their brand of isolation basketball, influencing Golden State for long enough stretches to temporarily secure advantages with a style of play that blatantly benefits Houston.
The fourth quarter of Game 4 offered a prime example. The Warriors claimed their largest lead of the contest at 82-70 when Stephen Curry assisted on a Shaun Livingston dunk at the 10:45 mark. That play produced the 14th and final assist of the evening for Golden State.
“We scored 12 points,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the fourth period. “So it’s not like we were getting great shots either.
“It was sort of trench warfare. It was just everybody grinding it out, a lot of isolation. I guess this is the modern NBA. But the only way you can do this and win is you have to have great one-on-one players. You’ve got to have great defenders, two-way guys, and we do and they do. And so, it just becomes a one-on-one battle with all the switching, and they did a great job of it.”
The Warriors paced the NBA in assist percentage (68.5) during the regular season. The Rockets, conversely, ranked 22nd at 55.7 percent, relying on the isolation brilliance of James Harden and Chris Paul. And while Golden State features two exceptional one-on-one talents in Kevin Durant and Curry, isolation basketball doesn’t reflect the Warriors’ offensive identity.
The Warriors’ 14 assists in Game 4 represented a series low. Their 48.2 assist rate in the series is worse than the Rockets’ assist percentage (49.3), a remarkable and surprising development. The final period on Tuesday revealed Golden State at its most unrecognizable and disjointed.
“I think we just got a little rushed,” Curry said. “I think some of the mix-ups we had on defense affected our energy on the offensive end. And credit to them: We know they’re doing a lot of switching and trying to force us into one-on-one-type situations, but that’s no excuse to not get the ball moving [url=http://www.authenticstennesseetitans.com/cheap-harold-landry-jersey]Harold Landry Jersey Elite[/url] , trusting what we do best. And whether it’s the first quarter, second quarter, or crunch time in the fourth, we got to be us. And that’s going to be the adjustment for Game 5.”
With Game 5 set for Toyota Center on Thursday, the Rockets have a clear understanding of their most immediate mission. Their season-long defensive might has served them well during crucial spans against the Warriors, with Houston scrambling and contesting at a fevered pitch.
The moments when the Warriors get rolling offensively have been harrowing for Houston, yet the Rockets mustered the gumption in Games 2 and 4 to claw back into contention behind their defense. When Golden State threatened to run off to a 3-1 series lead, Houston was unbowed.
“These are the moments that we spend all that time for,” Paul said. “Mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness, and I think guys on our team showed that.”
That level of perseverance wasn’t attached to the Rockets’ collective identity or aligned to Harden individually. But in Game 4, Houston finally won at Oracle Arena and snapped the Warriors’ 16-game home postseason winning streak. After falling to the Warriors in five games in consecutive postseasons, the Rockets have finally cleared one hurdle. Another one awaits.
“We came a long way,” Harden said. “Obviously new personnel but we came an extremely long way, and we’ve been talking about it all season long (starting in the) summertime: put ourselves in the best position, and we’re doing that. And so, another opportunity Game 5, we’ve got to come out and take advantage of it. Simple.”
Maybe NFL teams got exhausted from scrambling to pick quarterbacks in the first round of the draft.
It took until the 76th overall slot Friday night, 44 picks after the last one [url=http://www.officialbruinsproonline.com/authentic-adidas-david-pastrnak-jersey]Adidas David Pastrnak Jersey[/url] , that Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph was selected by Pittsburgh. The Steelers get a big, strong-armed, highly competitive QB 鈥?yep, sounds a lot like incumbent Ben Roethlisberger, who is 36 and closing in on the end of his championship career.
"It's not Ben's job to teach me anything. It's my job to learn," said Rudolph, who added he dreamed of becoming a Steeler.
Pittsburgh has had little success with backups for Big Ben, with another Oklahoma product, Landry Jones, never approaching the Roethlisberger level.
When Oklahoma State played at Heinz Field last year and won 59-21, Rudolph threw for five touchdowns in the first half.
Five quarterbacks went on Thursday night, from top overall pick Baker Mayfield (coincidentally, a Sooner) to Lamar Jackson of Louisville at No. 32. Then, nothing.
Until Rudolph, who was not on hand.
Rudolph will join James Washington, his main target at Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh's second-round choice.
"To go on to the next chapter with one of your brothers and the best receiver you've spent your whole college days with and maybe spend 15 years with," Rudolph said, "it's awesome."
Also not present when his name was called 59th overall by Washington was LSU running back Derrius Guice. Guice was among the 22 players on hand for the opening round [url=http://www.pantherscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-ian-thomas-jersey]Authentic Ian Thomas Jersey[/url] , but he cleared out after not being chosen. The Redskins grabbed him well after the hard-running power back had departed.
"It did surprise me because a lot of the things came out of nowhere and weren't true," he said of sliding, reportedly for off-field character issues, "and I just didn't understand why me out of all people, because I'm great to everybody. I have a great personality and I just didn't understand why everything just hit so hard with me out of everybody.
"I'm just thankful to know that this whole process is over with, that an organization believed in me and trusted in me and I'm just ready to get to work."
Three other players not taken in the first round, Texas tackle Connor Williams, Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson, and UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, did stick it out. Williams, who didn't have far to go to be at home 鈥?he's from the Dallas area 鈥? will be staying in Big D because the Cowboys chose him 50th. He could wind up at guard.
His selection drew the loudest cheers of the night at AT&T Stadium, in contrast to how the locals greeted Dallas' first-rounder, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, whose reception was cool at best.
"I was watching my phone and it got down to two minutes and I thought it had passed," Williams said. "My phone starts with 972 so I knew it was a Dallas area code, and I thought this can't be. I got on the phone and it was Cloud 9.
"It was definitely a roller coaster and it was up and down. But at the end of the day, it was all worth the wait. It was all worth it."
Jackson went 45th to Green Bay, a place he could immediately be a starter even though he is not a speedster. He led FBS last year with eight interceptions.
"It goes back to his awareness and IQ for the game [url=http://www.buccaneerscheapstore.com/alex-cappa-jersey-cheap]Alex Cappa Jersey Buccaneers[/url] ," scout Alonzo Dotson said. "The speed never really worried us because he's just so smart and he's always in the right position to play the ball."
Griffin, who had his left hand amputated when he was a child, has had a spectacular offseason since helping UCF to an undefeated year. He's been a star at the combine and personal workouts, but having only one hand is clearly giving NFL teams pause and he did not go in the first 100 picks.
Among the schools that had no one chosen in the first three rounds were Michigan State, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Washington State and Nebraska. Yet South Carolina State, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Humboldt State and Fort Hays State each had a selection.
The most fun came when the Super Bowl champion Eagles got back at the host Cowboys verbally.
When Philadelphia selected a South Dakota State tight end named Dallas Goedert 鈥?no kidding, Dallas 鈥?the choice was announced by six-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. He needled Cowboys fans.
"Hey Dallas, the last time you were in the Super Bowl, these draft picks weren't born," Akers shouted.
Last year at the draft in Philly, former Cowboys star Drew Pearson gave a rousing and hilarious speech about his team before announcing a pick.
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