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Rockets-Warriors Game 3 Recap: The end is near

Another playoff embarrassment.

Bob Levey/Getty Images
After two close losses in the toughest road arena in the NBA, the Rockets didn't exactly look like they were right in the series (it's tough to do that when you're down 2-0), but they certainly didn't look out of it. They do now after a 115-80 shellacking at home in Game 3 against the Warriors. This Game 3 blowout was eerily similar to Game 3 (and Game 4) of the Rockets' previous series at the Clippers, in which their defense was two steps slow all night, James Harden couldn't get anything going, and nobody's shot was falling. Golden State took the crowd out of it as early as midway through the first quarter, and they only got back in it for a small stretch of the third. After two gritty performances in which the Rockets played their hearts out on defense and James Harden carried them on offense, it all fell apart and they're down 3-0 in the series, which means in the NBA that it's over. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA Playoff history, and while we've all seen that these Rockets have the heart of a champion after their 3-1 comeback, the Warriors are not going to be the first team to give back a three-game advantage. They're too good. Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni managed to keep their head above water against a recovering-from-injury Chris Paul, but Stephen Curry has barbecued them for three straight games, and when Kevin McHale switches them off Steph, the Warriors have picked on them all over the floor. Golden State has been absolutely ruthless on mismatches in the first three games. If that was the only problem with the Rockets' defense, they would have won one of their games in Oakland and Game 3 would have been closer. But in this game especially, the Rockets' effort wasn't there, and nowhere was it more evident than on transition. In the first half, Andre Iguodala beat the Rockets down the floor for a layup after a Rockets' basket, which is inexcusable. Steph Curry hit multiple wide-open threes in transition, and he didn't do it at a full sprint. The Rockets just did not get back with intensity, and they got burned over and over. I have been more impressed by the Warriors' defense in this series than I thought possible. Draymond Green switched onto Harden multiple times in Game 3 and had shockingly little trouble containing his dribble penetration. When he was guarding Josh Smith, Green ignored him on the outside to clog the paint, and while Smoove shot 3-5 from three in the game, he also had 4 turnovers and missed multiple layups on drives. From inside the arc, he was 3-9. Ariza finally went cold again. Terry and Brewer were both 0-4 from deep. Prigioni had his worst game as a Rocket, as tentative handling the ball as he's ever been in red and completely unplayable on defense. He was so bad that Kevin McHale was forced to turn to Nick Johnson in the third quarter in the desperate hope that it would goose Houston's defense. He was serviceable, but he hurt the Rockets' offense even more, and that didn't seem possible. The Rockets have now lost to the Warriors all seven times the teams have faced this season, and it's clear that they're simply a better team. Until the Rockets get better outside shooters, there's only so far they can go playing their three-heavy style, and their limits are most evident when facing the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, and perhaps in NBA history. Their strength beats the Rockets' strength, and they have strengths where Houston has weaknesses. For the Rockets to have a chance at avoiding a sweep, James Harden is going to have to hit those tough stepback jumpers at the rate he did in the first two games, which we all knew was unsustainable anyway. But those are the only shots he can get with consistency in the halfcourt, as the Dubs' frontcourt of Bogut and Green is so stout defensively that they simply don't foul at the same rate that others do when Harden puts pressure on them. The Rockets also will have to shoot better than 20 percent from deep like they did in Game 3, and that's an area where there is legitimate hope for improvement. They missed quite a few wide-open shots in Game 3, and there are going to be games like that. When a game like that aligns with a game in which the Rockets' defensive edge isn't there and Harden isn't cooking, that's when you have a blowout. Harden and the threes are things you can point to and wonder what happened, but there's no such uncertainty when it comes to the defense. There's no mystery -- it was painfully obvious that the rotations were slow and the effort was lacking. Steph Curry even got two offensive rebounds against Dwight Howard, which is every bit as inexplicable and inexcusable as it sounds. We'll save the post-mortem for when the series is actually over, but it's heading that way, so for now all we'll say is that even if the Rockets get swept, they can still look at what they've done this season with pride. There's no shame in getting beat by a juggernaut like Golden State (well, there's some shame when you lose like this at home). The Rockets have another home game coming where they'll get a chance to show some pride, but it looks like the journey's nearly over.