After a dominating performance in Game 3, the Golden State Warriors looked to claim a commanding series lead in the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night.
Though the Warriors would be without Andre Iguodala, most still felt that the Warriors would take care of business and win Game 4.
In what was easily the most exciting and closest game in either the Eastern or Western Conference Finals this season, the Warriors and Rockets went back and forth, playing an exciting (if not always well-executed) game. In the end, the Rockets were able to hang on by their fingernails and claim the 95-92 victory.
Dubs start strong
The Warriors started out Tuesday night’s game like it was a continuation of Sunday night’s blow-out, opening the game with a 12-0 run while holding the Rockets scoreless for nearly five minutes. The Warriors’ defense forced the Rockets into turnovers and many possessions that went deep into the shot clock in that first quarter. The Rockets had four of their 10 turnovers in the first, and those early turnovers resulted in ten Warriors points. The Warriors also held the Rockets to 35% shooting from the field in the first.
It should not be surprising that Draymond Green was the player leading the defensive charge. Though he faded a bit down the stretch due to fatigue (playing a remarkable 45 minutes), Green gave something akin to a “Closeout Draymond” performance in Game 4. Green scored 11 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and handed out 8 assists in Tuesday night’s game. But once again it was his defense that stood out, especially in the first quarter. During this early stretch, Green brought the defensive intensity that put the Rockets in an early hole.
Houston was eventually able to get their offense going and trailed by nine points at the end of the first. But even after the Rockets closed that gap, the beginning of Game 4 made it feel like the Warriors were in control once again and well on their way to a victory.
Harden comes alive in the second
After struggling in the first quarter, James Harden came alive in the second quarter. The presumptive 2018 NBA MVP scored 15 of his 30 points in the quarter, to go along with Chris Paul’s 14 second-quarter points. Harden’s second quarter included this vicious posterization of Green.
Harden decided to score this time pic.twitter.com/VJ44saRHWa— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 23, 2018
At times in the first, it looked like Harden had checked out and wasn’t up for the challenge that this game presented. Starting in the second, Harden took that narrative and threw it out the window. Harden’s spectacular play allowed the Rockets to come all the way back, getting the lead and pushing it to as much as 10 points before going into halftime ahead by seven points.
Another reason for the Rockets’ great second quarter (or the Warriors’ terrible one) was a combination of Warriors turnovers and fouls. The crisp play that was on display in the Warriors’ first quarter was gone as they started to play in a sloppy and undisciplined manner. Five of the Warriors’ 16 turnovers came in the quarter while they also committed nine personal fouls that sent the Rockets to the free-throw line 11 times. Those extra possessions and opportunities at the free-throw line allowed the Rockets to get right back into the game.
This is where the Warriors really missed Iguodala. As has been noted so many times that has become a cliché, Iguodala is the steady presence, the one Steve Kerr referred to as “the adult in the room.” That second quarter was when the Warriors could’ve used his steady veteran presence as they became unraveled a bit and allowed the Rockets to regain momentum.
That’s the kind of thing that makes Iguodala so valuable and important to the Warriors and why his absence is such a big one. Just how important he is to this team showed as they let the Rockets get back into a game they probably had no business being in.
Another Stephen Curry Third Quarter (TM)
After allowing the Rockets to go into halftime with the lead, the Warriors mounted another impressive third quarter that saw them regain control over Game 4. Not surprisingly, it was Stephen Curry who ignited things.
With the Warriors scuffling and the Oracle crowd more than a bit nervous, Curry gave us another one of his sublime third quarter performances. Scoring 17 of his 28 points in the third, Curry dealt with a tenacious Rockets defense that pressured him and made it very difficult to get his shots off. However, Curry still managed to find the range and gave another spectacular performance before the Oracle faithful.
These Curry third-quarter explosions, which have become a common occurrence in Dub Nation, are really a sight to behold. The way it takes just one shot falling for the floodgates to open and the deluge to commence. The speed at which the three-pointers come crashing down upon you, the way your team’s lead can turn into a double-digit deficit in the blink of an eye, it really is something that’s unprecedented in the history of the NBA.
Led by Curry, the Warriors outscored the Rockets 34-17 in that third quarter as they regained the lead, possessing a 10-point advantage at the end of the third quarter. Heading into the fourth, it felt like the Warriors had weathered the Rockets’ fight back and were again in control of Game 4 and poised to take the 3-1 series lead. However, the game’s final 12 minutes would tell a very different story.
Rockets come back again in fourth to get the win
To be honest, I feel like I should write this entire recap about the fourth quarter because I could never do it justice in just one section. It was like a game within a game, like a chapter in a novel that you could pull out as its own short story, that’s how weighty and important it was. It was exciting and yet hideous and thus you couldn’t look away.
Much like they did in the second quarter, the Rockets showed they could withstand a powerful punch from the Warriors, using a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter and more sloppy play by the Warriors (four fourth-quarter turnovers) to cut into their advantage.
While it was Harden who keyed the Rockets’ second quarter surge, in the fourth quarter it was Paul who really stepped up. Paul scored eight of the Rockets’ 25 fourth-quarter points, coming up with important shots down the stretch that allowed the Rockets to come back and eventually reclaim the lead.
Both teams were absolutely exhausted by the time the fourth quarter began and that showed in their play. The Warriors seemed to be especially feeling the wear and tear of this long and exhausting game, particularly with their bench limited given Iguodala’s absence. Players saw their minutes stretched beyond what they’re used to. That likely accounts for the lack of ball movement (the Warriors only had one assist in the quarter) and the forced, bad shots the Warriors put up in the fourth (going 3-for-18 from the field).
Kevin Durant was particularly guilty of this. Though he had a good game (27 points, 12 rebounds), Durant was 1-for-5 from the field in the fourth and took quite a few ill-advised shots. To be certain, all the Warriors looked like they were putting up questionable shots out of sheer exhaustion but Durant’s shot selection was particularly shaky.
This issue of fatigue was something noted by both those who cover the Warriors...
Almost every move Kerr made in this game was to try to cover up the Warriors' ever-shortening rotation. Some of definitely did not work. But he can't play his top 4 guys 48 minutes. You saw the result of 40+ in the fourth quarter— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 23, 2018
...and by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
Theme of the night: Steve Kerr sensing his guys started running out of gas toward the end of the game— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 23, 2018
With all that said, the Warriors had the ball after a missed Harden three-pointer down two points with seconds to go. Durant dribbled the ball up court, passing it to Klay Thompson who got trapped by the Rockets defenders, forcing him into an ugly shot with time slipping away. Thompson, who injured his knee in the second quarter but returned to the game, came up short on his shot attempt and the Rockets secured the ball with under a second remaining, allowing them to hang on for the come-from-behind win.
The Warriors did have a timeout and many wondered why Kerr elected to not take it. Some of that had to do with wanting to keep things spread out and flowing (think about Durant’s winning shot in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals). But when things got bottled up with Thompson, Kerr did want a timeout and Green even signaled to the referees to make the call. Unfortunately, the referees didn’t see Green signaling for the timeout and play wasn’t stoped. Kerr addressed this in his postgame interview:
Steve Kerr said Draymond Green was trying to call a timeout when Klay Thompson was trapped late, referees didn't see it and they didn't look down at the bench. But said he is a proponent of the KD push without a timeout.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 23, 2018
With the Western Conference Finals tied at two games apiece, things now shift back to Houston for the pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors respond to letting this game slip away and allowing the Rockets to reclaim home court. But the Western Conference Finals are now a best-of-3 and it should make for some exciting (and nerve-wracking) basketball.
Who was your Warrior Wonder for game 4 against the Rockets?
This poll is closed
Nick Young (aka, I’m a Rockets fan)
Shaun Livingston’s dunk on Capela
That classic 3rd quarter splash fest