HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden knows the success or failure of the Houston Rockets falls on him regardless of what the rest of the team does in the Western Conference semifinals against the Golden Warriors.
That burden, he says, is one that most people can’t understand but that makes him better, something he’ll need to be if the Rockets hope to avoid falling into a 0-3 hole Saturday night when they host Game 3.
“How can I explain it,” he asked. “If you’ve never been in that situation before or don’t know what it feels like I can’t give you the (feeling).”
Last year’s MVP and a front-runner this season thrives on that pressure and is ready for the challenge facing him as the Rockets try to close the gap in the series.
“It makes me who I am and I wouldn’t expect anyone who hasn’t been in this position or doesn’t got the world on their shoulders to get it,” he said.
Harden is recovering after both of his eyes were injured in the first quarter of Game 2 when he was hit by Golden State’s Draymond Green as the two fought for a rebound. He returned in the second quarter of that game and went on to score 29 points, but said afterward that he could barely see and was suffering from blurry vision from the blow.
His eyes still had large bloody areas this week in practice but he said he was feeling better and didn’t expect his eyes to be a problem on Saturday.
The Rockets will look for Harden to be back to full strength to lead the team and gain momentum in the series. Both teams are aware that Houston will be desperate to win on Saturday since no team has ever come back after losing the first three games to win a playoff series.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was descriptive in his prediction for what the Warriors should expect from the Rockets in Game 3.
“Fire and fury,” Kerr said. “It sounds like the title of a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. They’re coming after us, we know that. Great team, they’re competitive, they’re tough. It’s just 2-0. We’ve done a good job of protecting our home court and now it’s their chance to respond.”
The Warriors are well-versed on how difficult it is to play in Houston, but they’ve also had success on the Rockets home court, having won two games there in last year’s Western Conference finals including Game 7.
“The job is far from over,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “We know that the toughest part of the series will be in Houston. We did what we were supposed to do defending home court, we’ve just got to protect it by getting one down there.”
WARRIORS AT ROCKETS
Warriors lead 2-0. Game 3, 8:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets are focused on getting off to a better start on Saturday after being done in by poor first quarters in the first two games. Golden State has outscored Houston 57-39 combined in the first quarters of Games 1 and 2. Of the other six quarter, the Warriors have scored more than the Rockets in just one of them with Houston holding a 170-162 advantage in the final three quarters of the first two games.
Houston’s defensive stopper P.J. Tucker had a simple answer for how the Rockets can have a better first quarter on Saturday.
“Playing harder,” he said.
INJURY WATCH: Stephen Curry’s dislocated left, non-shooting middle finger has been taped in recent days since he injured it in the first quarter of Game 2, when both he and Harden spent time in the locker room after being injured.
Kerr was happy to have the rest for Curry. He and Thompson also are playing on tender right ankles they sprained in Game 6 of the first round against the Clippers and Golden State had a quick turnaround to Game 1 against the Rockets last Saturday afternoon.
Having more time off before Game 3 helped.
“I think it’s come at a good time,” Kerr said.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Andre Iguodala. At 35 years old, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP is playing some of his best basketball and setting a defensive tone against Harden. Kerr went with Iguodala back in the starting lineup for the first two games of the series — saying “it’s our best lineup.”
Iguodala has been known to pace himself in the regular season to be fresh for the big playoff stage. Kerr thought he had one of his better regular seasons, too.
“We want playoff Andre to be playoff Andre, not January Andre,” Kerr said.
Golden State is 6-1 all-time in the postseason when using the starting lineup of Curry, Kevin Durant, Green, Iguodala and Thompson.
“I think he’s better right now in this postseason than he’s been in years, regular season or postseason,” Green said. “It’s a special thing, as bouncy as he is and the defense that he’s playing, the confidence he’s exuded on the offensive end. He’s just been an all-around great player for us.”
PRESSURE IS ON: The Rockets have their backs against the wall after losing the first two games. Houston’s Chris Paul believes they all need to play better to turn things around, but the veteran is putting it on himself to help other players like center Clint Capela get going.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive, both offensively and defensively and hopefully that will open up the game even more for Clint,” he said. “But defensively is where we’ve got to impose our will. When we get stops and get out in transition we’re one of the best teams in the league.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
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