Coming into the series, Klay Thompson laid out the defensive formula against this Rockets team: Just. Don’t. Reach.
Unfortunately, Stephen Curry seemed to have a different copy of the game plan, as he continued to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
For what felt like the umpteenth time this playoffs, Curry found himself in foul trouble, for simply being unable to not reach in. But all that was forgotten with one 3-point dagger with 25 seconds to go, as Curry lifted the Warriors to a 1-0 series lead with a 104-100 win.
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Curry said that it was a sense of relief to deliver that shot after not being able to find a rhythm all game:
“Just gotta make plays when the moment is calling for it. My reaction was I just needed one to go down. It was obviously a big one. So thankfully I hit it. Gave us a little cushion and we were able to win the game.”
That shot may not have even happened as Curry and his five fouls got away with approximately 50 reaches during the final couple Rockets possessions.
And if it wasn’t for James Harden stepping out of bounds, it looked like he was in prime position to pick up that disqualifying sixth foul. But he didn’t, he survived just long enough to snuff out the Rockets.
Steve Kerr said he’s tried everything to get Curry to stop reaching:
“When we were in LA and he picked up his fourth foul, I asked him, I said, ‘Steph, where is your mom?’ He pointed up 10 rows behind the bench. I looked up and made contact and looked at Sonya and I said, tell him not to foul anymore. If his mom can’t get through to him, I’m definitely not going to get through to him. Maybe I’ll try Dell this time, try dad.”
It was a rough overall game for Curry as he had just 18 points shooting only 3-of-18 from deep and looked pretty limited by his sprained ankle throughout much of the contest. Couple that with his happy hands and the Rockets switching defense and his usual impact wasn’t there—at least until the end.
The other Splash Brother, Thompson, also had a bad wheel, which was just as limiting. He wasn’t cleared until shootaround Sunday morning and then had to immediately guard Harden and Chris Paul. And while he again struggled offensively with just 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting, he made his presence felt on defense.
Kevin Durant said he had no doubt that Thompson was going to be able to play:
“And if I can get inside his head right now he probably wasn’t even thinking about his ankle. He was just trying to play his hardest for the team. We definitely appreciate Klay for that, because his ankle, that twist was pretty bad. But he came out and played with great focus all night.”
To get the team to the finish line, and with Curry on the bench, the Warriors once again had to ride Durant. It’s become as familiar of a sight as Joe Lacob sitting courtside, Durant taking the reins when the Warriors need him most these playoffs.
It wasn’t quite the record-tying 38-point outburst he had in the first half against the Clippers Friday, but the 15 third quarter points were big in keeping the Warriors on top, while they were without their point guard.
When asked if there was a player who’s had a similar stretch to Durant recently, Kerr came up with one name:
“There was this guy named Michael something. I can’t remember his last name. But, no, Kevin’s run these last couple of weeks, it’s just been off the charts. I’ve said it a few times this week. I mean, he’s the most skilled basketball player on earth… And I think after we lost game 2 to the Clippers, I think he just felt like he just had to turn it up and lift us up another level and that’s exactly what he’s done.”
And while he stabled the team on offense, Draymond Green led the team defensively. His nine rebounds led the team and he rendered his center counterpart Clint Capela essentially useless. Capela had just four points on one made field goal as every lob was taken away by Green and the rest of the Warriors.
Green was also instrumental in keeping Harden in check, as the reigning MVP shot just 9-of-28 from the field. It was a point of contention after the game as Harden said he wanted a “fair chance” in regards to some no-calls by the refs. While there were a couple missed calls, most of the replays showed Harden jumping forward to create all the contact.
And Green had a different reaction when he heard about Harden’s complaints:
“Huh? I’ve been fouled by James on a James 3-pointer before. No, I ain’t going with that one. I’m straight. No… I think we can all sit here and complain about calls after every game. That’s just the nature of the game we play. Referring is an inexact science. So it is what it is.”
He also pushed the tempo offensively and continued to be aggressive with his shots, something that makes the Warriors a completely different beast. He had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds and nine assists, and made Houston pay for continuing to leave him open.
Just his presence in the starting lineup showed how serious the Warriors are taking the Rockets, starting their best lineup, the Hamptons 5, a series after getting themselves into unnecessary trouble by not taking the Clippers serious enough.
It was a clear message from the coaching staff that this series needed to be taken seriously from the jump Green said:
“So many times you kind of go in the series and you wait to take a loss to make that first adjustment. I think we just got ahead of it. We’re at home. We don’t want to start off 0-1. So that can kind of change the tone of an entire series. So that was big for us. And I think it worked to our advantage tonight.”
That’s something they are going to need to do all series though, and not just in Game 1—can they stay locked in for an extended amount of time?
It’s anyone’s guess with this team, but it’s starting off the right way.
The short turnaround continues for Golden State as these two teams will get just a day of rest before taking the court again Tuesday for Game 2.
Kevin Durant finished with 35 points, which pushed him past Larry Bird for 11th place on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list.