By KRISTIE RIEKEN
, AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — The Rockets have reason to feel good, tied with Golden State after winning Game 2 in a rout in the Western Conference finals.
But a big challenge awaits Sunday at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have won an NBA-record tying 15 straight playoff games.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni knows all about Golden State’s success in Oakland, but thinks it has less to do with being at home than the fact that the Warriors are a great team.
“The challenge is you’re playing Golden State. That’s why they’ve won 15 in a row. Not because of the building, but because they’re good,” he said. “All these players are used to playing in hostile environments … it helps a little bit (but) sometimes you feed off the energy also from the other crowd. So you try to take them out as soon as you can and take out the crowd.”
The Rockets aren’t daunted by Golden State’s winning streak there and are looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s definitely a great place to play,” Trevor Ariza said. “Their fans are great. They bring a lot of energy to the game. At this point there’s nothing like playing in that type of environment and trying to silence them.”
Ariza was one of the keys to Houston’s 127-105 win in Game 2 that helped erase the memory of Houston’s tough home loss in the series opener. Ariza had 19 points as one of five Rockets who scored more than 16 points to rebound after an ineffective performance in Game 1 because of foul trouble.
While the Rockets know what happened in Game 2 won’t matter if they don’t take care of business on Sunday night, they do believe it gives them a bit of momentum.
“Yeah, just because we know we’re more than capable of it,” James Harden said. “We’ve just got to go out there and do it every possession.”
Houston’s 127 points were the most the team has scored this postseason. But they’re quick to point out that their success on offense was the product of solid defense. That, they say, is the reason it won’t be difficult to recreate what they did in Game 2 on Sunday night.
“It wasn’t anything special that we did,” Harden said. “We just created more opportunities with our defense.”
Sunday will be just Houston’s second game at Golden State this season and first since the Rockets got a 122-121 win on Oct. 17 in the opener for both teams on the night the Warriors received their championship rings.
“A lot has been going on since then,” Harden said. “But as long as we take those same principles and that mindset that we have, no matter where we play, we’ll be pretty good.”
Kevin Durant has scored 75 points combined in the first two games to lead the Warriors, but Stephen Curry hasn’t really gotten going yet as he rounds into form after missing almost two months with a knee injury. The Rockets know the 2015 and 2016 Most Valuable Player is capable of having a huge game at any time and they must account for him at all times, just as they do with Durant and Klay Thompson.
“I just think everybody on their team can shoot,” Ariza said. “When they’re in a scoring position, you just have to give some sort of resistance. Try to make them think about doing other things.”
The Warriors have much more experience at this level of the postseason with this being their franchise-record fourth straight trip to the conference finals. But Houston has plenty of veteran leadership led by nine-time All-Star Chris Paul, who said it’s easy to look forward regardless of how the last game went.
“It feels like Game 2 was a week ago now,” he said. “That’s how it is in the playoffs … we’ve done a great job all year staying even-keeled. We tried not to get too high or too low.”