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Analysis: Curry’s fourth quarter propels Warriors to 104-99 win over Houston Rockets

Playing the entire fourth quarter without Kevin Durant, the Warriors’ championship character shows in a victory that gives them a 3-2 advantage in the Western Conference Semifinals.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs shifted from Houston back to Oakland for Game 5 between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets. After two frustrating losses, the Warriors certainly looked forward to being back at Oracle Arena and get back to their winning ways. Wednesday night’s game was a roller-coaster of emotions for Dub Nation with dizzying highs and crushing lows. Though at times it looked like all hope was lost and the Warriors would lose this game (and most likely the series as well), the defending champions fought back and never capitulated, hanging on to earn a 104-99 win over the Rockets. That win gave the Warriors a 3-2 advantage in the Western Conference Semifinals and put them just one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the fifth-consecutive season.

Warriors get off to an impressive start in Game 5

The Warriors in the first half played like the Warriors we’ve become accustomed to watching over these past few seasons. While the team frequently looked lethargic in Games 3 and 4, the Warriors played with tremendous energy in the first half of Game 5. This showed up in the rebounding totals for both teams. While the Rockets dominated the glass in Games 3 and 4, the Warriors held a 27-18 rebounding advantage in the first half (including 8 offensive rebounds to just 1 for the Rockets).

The Warriors played a much better defensive game in the first half as well. The Warriors held the Rockets to just 43 first-half points on 36.8% shooting and 22.7% from three-point range. The Warriors also forced 10 Rockets’ turnovers which led to 12 points for the defending champions. With Draymond Green leading the way and Andre Iguodala doing an exemplary job limited the damage that James Harden was able to do , the Warriors were able to contain the Rockets’ offense on their way to a 14-point lead at halftime.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
Everyone was fired up at Oracle for Game 5, perhaps no one more than Draymond Green.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a subpar Game 4, Klay Thompson rebounded and appeared to have found his shooting stroke to start Game 5. Thompson scored 17 of his 27 points in the first half, going 3/7 from three-point range over the game’s first two quarters. Three of those points came on this shot to start the second quarter.

Thompson would cool off over the rest of the game, scoring just ten points in the game’s two remaining quarters, but his early scoring was instrumental getting an early lead in Wednesday night’s game.

Green also did his part in the Warriors’ offense in that impressive first half as well. Though he scored just 3 points in that first half (and just in the entire game before fouling out with just under a minute left to go), Green’s passing and play-making were an enormous part of why the Warriors played so well in the first half. Green had 9 of his 11 assists in the first half, including one to set up Thompson for a three-point shot.

The Warriors dominated the first two quarters of Game 5, leading by as many as 20 points and appearing to have wrestled control of the series away from the Rockets. Unfortunately, the Warriors would give it all back in the third quarter.

Everything falls apart in the third

As great as the Warriors looked in the first half, they looked equally awful in the second half, specifically the third quarter. The Rockets outscored the Warriors 29-15 in that quarter as they erased the Warriors’ 14-point lead to tie things up heading into the fourth. The focus that the Warriors played with in the first half completely vanished as they turned the ball over 6 times in the third quarter alone, resulting in 11 points for the Rockets.

As if relinquishing a fourteen-point lead wasn’t bad enough, the Warriors also lost Kevin Durant (who led the team in scoring with 22 points up to that point) with around two minutes to go in the third. Though it was not an Achilles injury as many thought it might be (given that it was a non-contact injury), the right calf strain Durant suffered kept him out of the rest of the game.

Between losing Durant and letting the Rockets erase their 14-point halftime advantage, the third quarter of Game 5 looked like it might be the quarter that ended the Warriors’ season and cost them another title.

But that wasn’t the case as a certain two-time MVP still had something to say.

Curry comes up big when his team needs him (once again)

It was another game to forget for Stephen Curry through the first three quarters of Game 5. Mind-boggling turnovers, missed shots, and poor play typified his Wednesday night and it looked like this sub-standard play would cost the Warriors another game and potentially the series.

With Durant was forced from the game, the Warriors needed someone to carry them to a win and Curry answered that bell in a very big way. In the fourth quarter, Curry scored 12 of his 25 points, countering every run the Rockets made and making sure the Warriors didn’t lose on this night. Curry went 23 from three-point range in the fourth quarter as well, including this shot that gave the Warriors a four-point lead with about five minutes left in the game.

Curry also showed off his hustle and toughness in the fourth quarter. You see that on this play, in which he gets the offensive rebound off his own missed shot and then draws contact from Chris Paul to get to the free-throw line and push the Warriors’ lead to six points.

While it wasn’t the prettiest or easiest performance (one wonders how much his injured finger is affecting him despite his protestations that it is not hindering his play), Curry did what the greatest players do in those tense moments when everything is at stake. He stepped up, played great, and willed his team to a victory.

The Legend of Looney grows

While Curry’s clutch play will garner most of the attention form Game 5 (and deservedly so), Kevon Looney deserves some praise for the important role he played in the Warriors getting this win. Looney finished Wednesday night’s win with 5 offensive rebounds, including 2 on this play alone (which ultimately resulted in a dunk for Durant).

Looney’s final offensive rebound came with just under three minutes to go in the game. Getting the rebound off of a Curry miss, Looney kept the play alive and allowed Andre Iguodala to find Thompson for a three-pointer that pushed the Warriors’ lead to eight points.

Looney’s defense was also great as he held his own while having to deal with the Rockets’ guards in pick-and-roll situations. Looney came up with this big block here, rejecting an attempt by Chris Paul with just over a minute left to go in the game.

While the Warriors’ couldn’t completely contain Harden (who scored 31 points) and still left Eric Gordon open far too often (he scored 19 points in the losing effort), they did an exemplary job against Paul. Paul scored just 11 points on 3/14 shooting while going 0/6 from three-point range.

While Curry stepped up when his team was challenged and needed him to play great, Paul shrunk and turned in one of the worst playoff performances of his career. In that fourth quarter, Harden attempted just one shot while Paul attempted three and missed all of them. Looney’s defense when getting switched onto Paul, more than holding his own against the guard, was key to the Warriors containing the Rockets in that fourth quarter and getting the Game 5 win.

Though everyone will be waiting with bated breath to hear the results of the MRI on Durant’s calf train (and it appears a near-certainty that he will be sitting out Game 6), the Warriors have to be feeling good about the resiliency and toughness they showed. Because of that, they have a chance to end this series on Friday night back at the Toyota Center in Houston.