HOUSTON — O.K., O.K., so I’ll put off those restaurant reservations in the Mission District during the N.B.A. finals in June, and that hike in the Oakland Hills can wait. The Western Conference finals have heated up and 95-degrees-in-the-shade, shirt-sticks-to-your-back Houston just may be where it’s at.
The Houston Rockets came back from the Game 1 dead, discarded their slow-motion offense and put on a ferocious display in Game 2. They shoved around the artistes known as the Golden State Warriors and claimed a 127-105 victory on Wednesday night.
In truth, you could see this coming. For two days, Rockets coaches, players, their spouses and perhaps their children in elementary school cafeterias talked intently of playing intensely, faster, harder, with more force. The Rockets won 65 games during the regular season, and coach and players acknowledged that they came out for the first game playing as if their stomachs were knotted.
“We got a little rattled, and we can’t do that,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni said.
Not to worry. On Wednesday night, I watch James Harden, the Rockets’ cool cat glider of a superstar guard, walk onto the court to practice, his black hoodie and that bushy black beard calling to mind a Middle-earth wizard. He shoots a while, scoops up a basketball and retreats to the bench. Cradling that ball like a baby, he listens to Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar and Z-Ro, his head bobbing, his body moving this way and that, his index fingers wagging in unison. Then he leans forward and, still seated, dribbles Harlem Globetrotter-style, tiny pat-a-cake dribbles, then rat-a-tat big ones between his legs, and then a crazy weave, the whole time grooving to the music.