Eric is the reason that game happened yesterday. Obviously, our defense was great but we needed Eric to have a breakout game. —Rockets' James Harden, on Eric Gordon
SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a good reason why Eric Gordon was named as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2016-17 and is a top candidate to win the award this year.
But the ninth-year pro out of Indiana didn’t show much in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals and needed a phone call from likely league MVP James Harden to get going in Friday’s Game 3.
Harden said Saturday that he called Gordon to give him some encouragement before Friday’s game, which the Rockets won easily.
“I called him and I said, ‘What did you see out there?’” Harden said. “And he tried to give me all this ‘they were aggressive,’ and I said, ‘No, you need to go out there and score the basketball, because that’s what you do. We talked a little bit, and I think that’s all he needed was to go out there and had that confidence — ‘Yo I am sixth man of the year I can go out there and put up 25 and be Eric Gordon.”
Gordon had scored just seven points in the first game on 0-for-6 shooting and shot just 5 for 16 in Game 2, below his 18-point season average.
But Friday, he got loose for 25 on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range for 25 points.
“Eric is the reason that game happened yesterday,” said Harden. “Obviously, our defense was great but we needed Eric to have a breakout game. Not just making threes, but he was being aggressive and getting to the basket. That’s the sixth man that we know.”
OUT OF THE ROTATION: The first three times Utah and Houston played this season, Ryan Anderson was the starting forward for the Rockets. In fact, Anderson started 50 games for the Rockets this season.
These days, the former Cal star can’t even get off the bench.
The 6-foot-10 sharpshooter didn’t even get on the floor until four minutes were left in the game Friday night despite the Rockets' holding a 30-point lead throughout the second half.
He made his only basket late in Friday’s contest after going scoreless in the first two games of the series when he played a total of 16 minutes.
Another player not seeing much action is former Jazzman Joe Johnson, who was picked up by the Rockets in February after getting traded by Utah. Johnson didn’t play in the first two games of the series and, like Anderson, played just the final 4:17 Friday night, making one of three shots.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: While P.J. Tucker was being interviewed at Saturday’s practice, coach Mike D’Antoni poked his head in the scrum of media and asked Tucker if it was his birthday.
“Yeah I just turned 21, Coach,” Tucker said with a big laugh. “A 12-year vet turned 21.”
Tucker, in just his seventh full NBA season after playing overseas for five years from 2007 to 2012, actually turned 33. He played five years with Phoenix before being traded to Toronto last year. Then, last summer, he signed a $32 million, four-year free agent contract with Houston and played all 82 games this season, starting 34.
When asked what he wanted for his birthday, Tucker paused and said, “Is that really a question?” before giving the expected answer, “win two more games.”