Harden, Rockets rout Spurs 125-104 to tie series

NBA Playoffs: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Game 4

That's one of three Game 4s on Sunday's National Basketball Association playoff slate: Boston and Washington continue their bruising series with the Celtics leading that East semifinal matchup 2-1, and San Antonio — which proved on Friday that it won't buckle easily after losing Tony Parker for the season — will look to go up 3-1 in its West semifinal series against Houston.

With the Rockets-Spurs series tied 2-2, nobody can predict the victor of this bracket. When Harden's controlling the action the way he did in Game 1 and Game 4 against San Antonio, it can often feel as though the only way to guard him is to be in two places at once.

Now, with Nene out for the rest of the postseason with a groin injury, the burden on Harden to perform at that high level becomes as crucial as ever for Houston.

In order for the Rockets to win this series, they must play at their pace the majority of the time and hit their open shots. The only drawback to this fouling strategy is that the Spurs can not afford to put Green or Leonard in foul trouble, and if the Rockets get into the bonus early on, it's just an additional weapon for the rest of the team.

The swing here is so important that the Rockets MUST treat this like a Game 7.

In short, there is very little heavy lifting to do when you play offensively with Harden. The Rockets throw a haymaker, then the Spurs throw a couple heavy blows, and the Rockets came back with another stunner with a 125-104 blowout.

After recording just four fast-break points in Game 3, the Rockets managed 13 in the first quarter alone in Game 4.


KEEP AN EYE ON: The Spurs' transition defense. The Spurs shot 49.4 percent from the floor yet never led.

Game 6 will be on Thursday in Houston, with a seventh and deciding game - if necessary - scheduled for Sunday in San Antonio.

With Capela and Nene, the Rockets had the slight edge on the Spurs' Dwayne Demond-Pau Gasol combo.

Regardless, the lineup worked relatively well for the Rockets. San Antonio began planting a rim protector under high screens, threatening to block James Harden if he drove, while keeping everyone else close to their men on the perimeter to discourage the drive-and-kick 3s that power the Rocket offense.

What his absence means is that the Rockets, most likely, will have to do even more dancing around than before, relying on the "cute and fun" stuff to which D'Antoni referred. No more letting San Antonio dictate the tempo that tortured them so in those Game 2 and 3 losses. It's always a risk to go that small against a team that usually plays big, but so far it is paying off for Houston. Confuse them in pick-and-rolls, get their bigs into pick-and-rolls regardless of if Aldridge is guarding Trevor (Ariza) or whoever the bigs are guarding.

"We're capable of those type of runs every game", said Morris, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. James Harden (28 points, 12 assists and five rebounds) was, unsurprisingly, the catalyst for most of this once again - but he had help. With the Spurs playing two traditional bigs, the Rockets have ample opportunities through screening to get one of them on the ball-handler, which is essentially a death sentence for the defender.

INJURY UPDATE: The Rockets lost backup center Nene for the remainder of the postseason because of a muscle tear in his left thigh.

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