By William G. McCray, Obnoxioustv
With a sold out crowd that was a sea of gold the Warriors continued their dominance of the Houston Rockets this season with a 110-106 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday in Oakland at the Oracle Arena.
To earn the playoff victory, the NBA’s MVP, Stephen Curry and the Warriors had to survive a showdown at home after sweeping the regular-season matchups aganist the Rockets.
Curry, proved to be the Golden Kid by scoring a game-high 34 points, hitting six 3-pointers to get the better of MVP runner-up James Harden, who took the game over at times and finished with 28 points.
The Warriors had the last laugh as they proceeded to go on an 11-0 run after Harden had tied the score at 97 with 5:28 left. Harrison Barnes, the politician had back-to-back dunks off an inbound pass and a putback. Then Curry found himself open for a layup under the basket and hit a 3-pointer.
Houston responded with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to two, but Curry calmly sank two free throws with 11.8 seconds left to seal the win in the Warriors’ first conference finals game in close to 40 years.
“We expected it to be a battle,” Curry said. “It wasn’t going to be a blowout at all.”
Curry was 6 for 11 from 3-point range, fending off the Rockets’ challenges over and over again. Shaun Livingston added 18 points off the bench, speeding up the pace of the game to spark a second-quarter run that turned the tide.
Draymond Green collected 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while helping stop center Dwight Howard.
Harden poured in 21 of his points in the second half and finished with 11 rebounds and nine assists.
“He’s hitting tough contested fall-away twos,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do.”
Harden took control for the Rockets as Howard missed much of the second half due to a knee bruise and was held to seven points and 13 rebounds.
The Warriors trailed by as many as 16 points in the second quarter. Then came their heavy-handed response to the Rockets, who entered the series with some momentum after coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win their Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Closing the first half on a 25-6 run, the Warriors erased the deficit and took a 58-55 halftime lead. Curryhit a step-back jumper at the buzzer to send them into the locker room with all the momentum.
That shot was actually the only one from Curry during the run, which was keyed by a switch the Warriors made on defense and contributions from the bench.
Green drew the assignment at center and bothered Howard after Andrew Bogut had picked up three fouls in seven minutes of action and finished the game scoreless.
Livingston scored 16 points in the first half, including eight of the Warriors’ points on a 10-0 run to cut the lead.
“You can’t give a really good shooting team easy layups, confidence, and that’s what we did in the second quarter,” Harden said.
The crowd noise at Oracle Arena was deafening as Green then drew an offensive foul on Howard and scored on a tip-in at the other end. Howard would commit five first-half turnovers.
“They struggled a bit with the small lineup when they were big with Dwight, and that’s what kind of changed the game for us,” Green said.
After Klay Thompson tied the score at 53 with a layup, the tidal wave continued as Barnes put the Warriors ahead with a 3-pointer.
“I’m proud of the way we stuck with it, and we became the aggressor in the second quarter,” Curry said.
It was the Rockets who had gotten off to a hot start. They led 31-24 after the first quarter and successfully scored in transition on the Warriors. Josh Smith hit a 3-pointer and had a dunk in transition before Corey Brewer scored on a fast-break layup to cap a 9-0 run that gave the Rockets a 49-33 lead.
Howard didn’t look the same after colliding with Smith in the first quarter. He limped around and briefly went back to the locker room, but the Warriors could not take advantage of his absence while the Rockets went on an 11-2 run.
Houston had led 9-2 before Thompson scored seven straight points to tie the score and hit his only 3-pointer of the game.
WARRIORS GUARD SHAUN LIVINGSTON
- Shaun, you told me the other night this is why you joined the Warriors. How good does it feel to rise to the occasion in a moment like this?
SHAUN LIVINGSTON: Again, this is the furthest that I’ve been. The opportunity is amazing. Again, just trying to bring energy off the bench. I think our bench has been good all year. We rely on our depth, you know, and again, I just try to come in and do my part. Tonight I was able to make some plays just to help our team kind of get into a run in the second quarter.
Q. Shaun, I understand you want to do your part, but tonight you did your part plus. You did a lot. What was going on tonight that you ‑‑ you really got off. What was going on that you were able to do that?
LIVINGSTON: Matchups. Matchups and my teammates. My teammates were making plays. I was able to hit a couple shots, get going early. But I think we have some of the best playmakers in the NBA. Obviously Steph gets a lot of attention, Klay gets a lot of attention, but Draymond is an underrated passer. I believe he had eight or nine assists tonight. We have multiple guys, Andre Iguodala, we have multiple guys that can hit shots and also put the ball on the floor and make plays for their teammates.
Q. This team has such a rep for being tough. To be here but another slow start, how concerned are you about the occasional slow starts we’ve seen in the Playoffs?
LIVINGSTON: You know, with the series, sometimes it can be a long series just trying to figure out the other team. I mean, they’re coming in, they just played. They have a lot of momentum, rhythm, winning a Game 7, emotional game. They have a lot of players playing well at a high level, hitting shots. Trevor Ariza, another good game for him, Corey Brewer has been good off the bench. They have a lot of confidence, but we ‑‑ I think the thing us for us is matching the intensity that they bring as soon as the ball is up. That’s kind of what we did with Memphis, not trying to look back, but that was kind of the turning point of that series, and I think this series, as well. We’re going to have to match their intensity from the jump because they’re capable of going on big runs.
Q. Coach Kerr was talking a little bit about the matchups when you guys went to the small team and what was going on strategically, but what about just in terms of emotion and intensity? What do you think that that small lineup brought tonight?
LIVINGSTON: Energy. We came with it. When we go small, it’s not necessarily small. You know, we have guys out there that can guard multiple positions. A lot of times Draymond is the center, and he’s 6-7, 6-8, but we’re all covering each other. We’re able to cover a lot of ground defensively, switch, and help each other out. And from there it’s just feeding off the crowd. Oracle, you guys heard it tonight, it was rocking. We went on that run, that was a big run for us, it gave us a lot of momentum, and it can also be intimidating for the other team.
Q. In 10 seasons you’ve only been in the Playoffs three times and this is the farthest you’ve gotten. How much fun is this and are you going to have any time tomorrow to enjoy it and what it was like a couple years ago, five years ago and your run in the Playoffs at this point?
LIVINGSTON: Not yet. Not yet. It’s been a great journey for me and I’m definitely grateful and I’m enjoying the moment, but at the same time we’re focused on the next game. That’s really what this is about. They’re a good team. They’re going to come back and throw their punch at us the next game, as well. We have to be ready.
Q. Shaun, you guys did a really good job early of turning Harden into more of a distributor. Does it always feel against that guy that he’s going to catch fire at some point?
LIVINGSTON: He can. The type of shots that he was hitting, that’s a top‑five player in this league. There’s only a few players in this league that can hit those shots consistently, and he was doing it consistently. We kept telling Klay good defense, because the way that he was guarding him, those are the shots that we wanted him to take. It was also keeping some of the other players out of the game, and so we know he can get hot. We know he’s going to get some numbers and make some shots, but the key is making it hard for him, making it tough, trying to wear him down, and over a seven‑game series it gets harder and harder.
ROCKETS GUARD JAMES HARDEN
- James, how did you handle tonight in terms of initially maybe the first two quarters, kind of a point guard situation kind of getting everybody involved and then turning it on in the third and fourth. Was that because Dwight was out?
JAMES HARDEN: That’s just kind of my game, kind of getting a feel for the game. It’s Game 1 so just kind of getting a feel for it and just making the right passes, easy passes, taking my shot and taking lanes when I had opportunities.
Q. James, how did it change so greatly in that second quarter after you guys were up 16, and also, how difficult was it to sort of regroup knowing Dwight wouldn’t be right or wouldn’t be back?
HARDEN: Yeah, that was on us in that second quarter. I think the first quarter we did a really good job defensively. Offensively we made it easy, we shared the basketball. Second quarter they went on a run. You can’t give a really good shooting team easy lay‑ups, confidence, and that’s what we did in that second quarter. We turned the basketball over. That was definitely on us.
I mean, I didn’t even remember that Dwight had got injured. I was just so focused on the game and trying to rally the guys together. But hopefully he’s alright.
Q. You always want to be a playmaker, but in that fourth quarter did you just try to say, you know what, I’ve just got to take this game over in some fashion?
HARDEN: Yeah, just get to the rim, be aggressive. They went really small, really small, and so the rim was basically wide open, so I just tried to attack and see opportunities and just be aggressive.
Q. What are the challenges in terms of letting this one go? You guys had a great opportunity and couldn’t finish it off. How do you let that go?
HARDEN: I mean, we’ve done a great job of letting games go. It’s all about Game 2 now. Game 1 slipped away from us. We had several opportunities to win the game, didn’t happen, and so I think we’ll look at some film, we’ll go out there and correct some things basically that were on us, and just be better in Game 2.
WARRIORS GUARD STEPHEN CURRY
- For all the talk coming in about you and Harden, it lived up to it where you were hot from the start and Harden started to get hot in the third quarter. What’s that like when it’s back and forth between you two?
STEPH CURRY: It’s entertaining basketball, but we’re both supposed to help our team win and do what we can to impact the game. There’s going to be stretches where he plays well and obviously he did that for his team in the third quarter, to really keep him close and keep him in it, and he made some crazy plays that we defended well, and we’ll live with those shots. Hopefully we both have a big impact, and that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Q. Did you feel like you had to do a little bit more offensively, kind of pick the team up, kind of get them through this game to victory?
CURRY: No, I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. You never know what that’s going to mean, whether it’s going to be a playmaker or taking and making shots. You’ve just got to come out and be aggressive, and there’s a point during the first quarter where we obviously got down, and you kind of just want to pick the intensity up. I did my part, but the way other guys stepped up, specifically Shaun Livingston, the way he came in and impacted the game in the first half that provided a huge spark and was a huge reason we came back in that second quarter, he definitely did his thing tonight and it was a huge part of our win. That’s the beauty of the Playoffs. Every night main guys are going to show up and hopefully play well, but you need pieces around you to do what they do and carry some of that load.
Q. Your coach did say it was a feeling‑out process. Do you feel like you guys may have had first‑game jitters?
CURRY: Not first‑game jitters, just you play six games against a team that has a certain style, that first 24 minutes in this series is going to be a little bit different, and it took us a while to kind of figure out the pace. Obviously it’s different personnel out there, and so you kind of just ‑‑ it is a feeling‑out process for sure, and once we got our rhythm and figured out how to get some stops, we turned the game in our favor. We expected it to be a battle. It wasn’t going to be a blowout at all. We came in and were really fighting. Just proud of the way we stuck with it and became the aggressor in the second quarter.
Q. Sometimes you guys have a bit of a pattern of falling behind early and then mounting these heroic comebacks. Why is it that sometimes you fall behind early and have to come back like that?
CURRY: It’s basketball. You’re not always going to be on your A game to start games. You come out and be aggressive, but it always doesn’t click, and you’ve got to be able to find different ways to win games. We’ve done that all season, through the regular season. We don’t want to be in the hole, especially in the first half. That’s not how we envision the game going. But we fight, and that’s the one thing you can count on with this team, we’re going to fight and get back in the games.
Q. It seems like we’ve seen a lot more of you playing with both Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson in the Playoffs. What do you think that trio, the three of you playing together, brings to this team?
CURRY: We want to be versatile. That’s huge, for us to be able to have different line-ups to throw out there and have a guy that can come in and distribute the ball and we can play off of him. He’s a very unique player with the way that he can play the point guard position and the way that he does it. It’s a huge bonus for us when he comes in and becomes aggressive and pushes the tempo and the pace and shots start to appear when he’s out on the floor.
We’ve gotten a good chemistry with that lineup in different parts of the game that we’re out there.
Q. Klay had the tough job of guarding James Harden for most of the night Harden hit a lot of shots, but talk about the job Klay did defensively and talk about his personality of being calm, cool and collected can lead him to have a better shooting night later in the series?
CURRY: It’s the same way it was in the regular season against them. He loves that one‑on‑one challenge. Like I said, the possessions where James was getting some tough shots to go in, we were fine with the way he defended him. James had hit a couple step‑back shots over him over an extended and contested hand, and you bet on the fact the more tough shots he has to take and the harder it is to get into those spots that you hopefully wear him down over the course of a game. That’s one thing we were encouraging. He’s a great player that’s going to make great players. You’re defending him well and you’re making him work. You don’t want to give him easy baskets. That’s the one thing you can count on the whole series is Klay is going to step up to that challenge, and he’ll find his rhythm. You never worry about Klay having a shooting game like he did tonight because he’ll bounce back quick and he never loses confidence. That’s what you can expect from him.
Q. You versus James has been a fun part of the whole season, regular season, Playoffs, and then having this series here, you guys know each other, you’ve got a relationship. Have you ever acknowledged that elephant in the room with him? Do you guys ever joke about it, talk about it, or do you just compete and leave all the noise to everybody else?
STEPH CURRY: No, it hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t. When you get into a situation, obviously a playoff series but even during the regular season, those kind of matchups, there’s no real time to kind of chat about the extracurriculars that are going on. Like I said, we’re both trying to help our team win and do it our individual ways. It’s a great competitive environment, and obviously we don’t guard each other very much, but when you’re out there you kind of get riled up with the back and forth that might happen, like tonight, or just the will to want to win the game even more because you know how great of a player he is and what it takes to beat a team like Houston with a guy like James.
Q. Towards the end of the season when it was inevitable it was either you or James for MVP, did you find yourself kind of paying attention to what James was doing on some nights and when the voting came out were you kind of surprised because of how he was regarded that it wasn’t closer?
CURRY: I watch everybody in the league, and you know who’s playing well and the stories that are going on during the course of the season. So I definitely was impressed with everything that he was doing, the numbers that he was putting up, the way he was helping his team win games, and obviously there are other guys in that kind of pool that were so consistent over the course of the season. I was just appreciative to be in that group and keep showing up every night and trying to do what I can to help my team win and hopefully playing well every night.
I didn’t know what to expect with the whole voting thing. I mean, you hear talk back and forth and I try to stay focused on what I can control, but obviously it was a huge honor to win the award and to know that there were so many people that voted for me. But it takes nothing away from James’s season and LeBron’s season, all those guys that had great seasons. We pushed each other every night and it was a fun ride, and obviously we’re all focused on hopefully getting a ring.
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