In a game that saw James Harden go 0-for-11 from three point range, the Houston Rockets didn’t have to reckon with disaster. Instead, they beat the Warriors with defense, winning Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals 98-94 by neutralizing some of the toughest-to-guard players in the NBA.
It started with Clint Capela, who held down the fort with 5-of-6 shooting and 14 boards while the rest of the Rockets were struggling to get into a groove. A liability as a free-throw and distance shooter, Capela didn’t play for most of crunch time. But he made his mark on the game earlier, most memorably with a dramatic stuff of Draymond Green in the second quarter:
And then, a little later, a denial of Kevin Durant:
These blocks completed a collection of Warrior rejections, after Capela blocked Klay Thompson and Steph Curry in Game 4. But his contributions didn’t always show up on the stat sheet. In a huge fourth-quarter Warriors possession, Capela’s stellar corner closeout on Curry forced an out-of-bounds turnover.
In the final eight minutes, Houston did not trail. And at the risk of throwing a “Defense Wins Championships!” gloss over a couple of offenses that looked regularly dysfunctional throughout the game, there was something invigorating about seeing the Rockets—backed into a corner by poor shooting—consistently stonewall the walking mismatches that are the Warriors for the second game in a row. The Warriors had three chances to tie or take the lead with under a minute remaining, and each time, they came up empty. In the best of those opportunities, Steph Curry couldn’t even do more than try to thrash up a mid-range floater over two defenders.
The Rockets lead the series 3-2, and whatever happens from here, they’ve proved that the Warriors are not an unsolvable problem.