The Warriors led by 17 after the first quarter, expanding that lead to 22 with seven minutes left in the second quarter. The Warriors led 49-27 when the game completely changed with a quick 9-0 Rockets. The small run belied the deeper challenge looming for the Warriors in that quarter, as Houston would attempt 18 of their 20 first-half free throws in the second quarter. The Warriors large lead offered a bit of the cushion as the Warriors still managed to lead by eight at half-time, though the momentum had clearly shifted to the home team’s favor.
The Rockets were not slowed down by half-time, closing the lead to four, then just three with five minutes left in the third quarter. Suddenly appeared Draymond Green, who had left the game earlier due to an apparent injury. He would check in for Stephen Curry with four minutes left, and the Rockets would never become closer than five points for the remainder of the game.
This game never quite developed the flow one would expect from two of the NBA’s most prolific and exciting offenses, mainly because of officiating and poor three-point shooting. There were 33 combined fouls and 55 combined attempted free-throws. This throws off the pace of the game with constant stoppage of play, not to mention the psychological challenge that lies in overcoming a massive free-throw disparity.
The Rockets attempted 39 free-throws to the Warriors 16, making 33 and 12 respectively. A neutral observer would certainly feel as though the refs made bad calls on both sides, though they favored Houston more, while a more biased fan (myself included) would see the disadvantage as even more extreme Even if every foul was correctly called, the team finding themselves at the other end of the whistle will still feel as though they are unfairly punished. That feeling is compounded by playing on the road in front of a raucous crowd that gets a chance to chant “MVP” for all of James Harden’s 13 free throw attempts.
The other factor that affected the slow feel of the game was three-pointers, or a lack of them. The Warriors shot nearly 12% worse than their season average for three point percentage, making just 11 of their 41 threes. The Rockets had an ever greater discrepancy, shooting a full 20% worse than their season average, making just 5 of their 31 attempts. Credit both teams’ defenses, though the Warriors specifically showed why they are the best team in the league at limiting the three-point line. They ran multiple Rockets off the line and were disciplined on their switches.
Defense continues to be the hallmark of the Warriors during their now eight game winning streak, and holding Houston to 106 points, especially when they get 33 points from their charity stripe, is no small task. On the other end, the Warriors’ offense was humming, crossing the 30 assist line yet again, with 33 total assists on 45 field goals. That number would have been even higher if not for some unfortunate misses on open threes.
These numbers are encouraging as the Warriors enter the final stretch, but even moreso because they are doing it without Kevin Durant. Winning a game like this on the road, with a back-to-back the next night and a rematch looming; especially after blowing a huge lead and feeling like Houston has three extra players on the floor, is incredibly difficult and should be recognized. This hard-fought win was appropriately Steve Kerr’s 200th as a coach, which makes him the fastest coach in NBA history (and in all four major sports leagues) to reach that milestone with a total record of 200-38.
In terms of an individual performance, Stephen Curry had an MVP night, managing to outdo MVP favorite James Harden who still posted an impressive triple-double early in the fourth quarter.
Curry finished the night with 32 points in just 33 minutes. He made only three of his 11 three-pointers, but found his way to the line and scored when it counted, pouring in 12 points in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. He grabbed 10 boards, including an important defensive rebound to secure Warriors possession late, 7 assists, and two steals. Foul trouble limited his minutes in the third and fourth, but he played with force when he was on the court, closing out the game in spectacular fashion for the Warriors.
Javale McGee gave the Warriors a much needed energy-boost in the third, while James Michael McAdoo played inspired defense before heading to the locker room and not returning after a bloody head collision in the first quarter. Klay Thompson got very hot early, reaching 20 points with a little less than eight minutes left in the first half, but he would only score five more points before the game ended.
Draymond Green struggled from beyond the arc, but he still bullied his way to 19 points, making eight of his nine attempts from within the arc. He played fantastic defense throughout and played as good as individual defense on James Harden as any player can. Andre Iguodala continues to be a stabilizer for the Warriors off the bench, logging another 30 minute night and sporting the team-high +10. While he was not able to find his three-point stroke, making just one of his five attempts, he found other ways to score, and contributed six rebounds and six assists with just one turnover.