OAKLAND, Calif. — Houston Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni caught a lot of flak for saying before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night that the Golden State Warriors — the team playing at home, with a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series — had the pressure on it.
He looks pretty smart now.
After falling behind by double digits in both the first and third quarters, the Rockets came back both times, and eventually emerged with a thrilling 95-92 victory over the Warriors to even this series at two games apiece and end Golden State’s 16-game home winning streak in the postseason.
In a series — and a playoffs — that has been defined by blowouts, this game had the kind of drama NBA fans had been waiting for. And, in the end, it was the Rockets, the team with the NBA’s best regular season record, that made just enough plays to close it out.
The series returns to Houston for Game 5 on Thursday.
After Chris Paul made a pair of free throws to give Houston that 95-92 lead with a half-second remaining, Golden State got a chance to call timeout and set up a potential game-tying shot. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr drew up a nice play, getting Stephen Curry open in the corner, but Curry’s shot went wanting — and wouldn’t have counted anyway — to ensure Houston would come away with the victory.
Both teams looked exhausted in the final minutes, whether from fatigue or the weight of the moment. Golden State played its four all-stars virtually the entire second half, while Houston’s P.J. Tucker (44 minutes), James Harden (43), Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza (41 each) all broke 40 minutes.
The minutes clearly took their toll. The final moments were full of equal parts poor execution and high drama.
It was Houston, though, that managed to get over the finish line, thanks to 30 points from Harden (though only six in the second half) and 27 from Paul. Curry had 28 and Durant 27 with 12 rebounds to lead Golden State.
The Warriors clearly felt the loss of Andre Iguodala, the fifth member of the league’s most effective five-man lineup, who was ruled out of the game with a left knee injury before tip off.
“Well, obviously, he’s a great defender, and he’s a guy I think he led the league in assist to turnover ratio,” Kerr said of Iguodala. “ . . . You guys have heard me sing his praises for years. He’s an organizer. He’s a guy who settles us down. He continuously makes the right play.
“So we’ll miss all that.”
Initially, it wouldn’t look like the Warriors would miss Iguodala much at all. Golden State scored the first 12 points of the game as Houston missed its opening nine shots, and it quickly looked like this game would turn into yet another blowout in a postseason that has been full of them.
Houston, though, had other ideas. Thanks to an outstanding first half from Harden, including a ridiculous, poster-creating dunk on Green and picking Durant’s pocket on an isolation play at the top of the key to create another fast break dunk — the Rockets slowly dragged themselves back into the game. Then, once Paul finally got going, scoring 12 of his 14 points over the final 3:32 of the second quarter, Houston took off, going on a 25-7 run to close the half and take a 53-46 lead into the halftime break.
Iguodala’s absence was especially notable in the second quarter. The Warriors looked discombobulated for much of it — especially when Klay Thompson missed several minutes while being diagnosed with a left knee strain, which he played through, and when Curry sat for almost the entire last five minutes, except for the final possession of the half, after picking up three fouls.
Golden State turned to Nick Young for crucial minutes and it didn’t work out so well.
But then the third quarter happened. And, as usual, Golden State turned it on.
After both teams traded buckets for the opening five minutes of the third, with Houston maintaining its seven-point halftime lead, the Warriors finally found the extra gear they have reached so often, fueled by a barrage of three-pointers, led by Curry.
Four minutes later, a Durant midrange jumper made it 73-65 Warriors, capping an 18-3 run that saw Curry at one point score 11 straight to flip the game back in the Golden State’s favor.
But the Rockets, for the first time in eight postseason games here in Oakland, had a response that tilted the game in their favor. Now the Western Conference finals are a best-of-three sprint to the finish. Buckle up.
Steve Kerr clearly feels like he has to go for it in this game.
Without Andre Iguodala, Kerr has chosen to play Draymond Green for the entire second half. Green looks tired, but at this point – with under five minutes to go in a one-point game – it seems impossible to think he’ll be out again.
This game feels like a war of attrition. Whoever can hang on in the final moments will emerge victorious. Finally, it’s the close game everyone has been hoping for.
For the past four years, ever since this magical run began, the Warriors have dominated third quarters.
They may have just ended the Rockets’ season with their latest dominant third quarter performance.
Thanks to a second straight third quarter explosion from Stephen Curry, who scored 17 points tonight after scoring 18 in the third quarter of Game 3, Golden State went from down seven at halftime to up 10 after three quarters, putting themselves in position to take a decisive 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
Without Andre Iguodala, Golden State’s depth was going to be tested in Game 4.
Foul trouble is testing it even further.
Stephen Curry had to sit out the final five minutes of the first half after getting his third foul midway through the second quarter. Now Kevon Looney had to check out a little bit earlier than he would’ve normally in the third quarter after picking up his fourth in its opening minutes.
With Warriors Coach Steve Kerr essentially playing an eight man rotation without Iguodala, every foul, and minute, counts. Golden State is learning that the hard way in Game 4.
The Rockets, who missed their first nine shots of the game and fell behind 12-0, exploded in the second quarter, outscoring the Warriors 34-18 in the period to take a 53-46 lead into the halftime break.
James Harden was sensational, finishing with 24 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including a crazy dunk over Draymond Green and picking Kevin Durant’s pocket in an isolation at the top of key that turned into another fast break dunk.
Chris Paul, meanwhile, couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn until the final 3:32 of the half, when he hit a three over Kevin Durant to start a personal run that included three three-pointers, a layup and a free throw. Those 12 points were part of a 16-5 run to close the first half that gave Houston its first lead of the game after falling into that early hole and left the crowd here at Oracle Arena silent – a start change from the raucous celebrations in the game’s opening minutes.
Notably, Stephen Curry sat out for most of the final five minutes after picking up his third foul – part of why Houston went on that run. He checked out with 5:06 remaining and only came in for the final 16 seconds – only to have a shot emphatically blocked to end the half.
Durant is the only Warrior in double figures with 15 points, while Curry is 3 for 8 and Klay Thompson, who missed part of the second quarter with a sprained left knee before returning, is 3 for 9.
James Harden just dunked all over Draymond Green.
This, to say the least, doesn’t happen very often.
Meanwhile, the Rockets have climbed back into this game. That is largely thanks to Harden, who has 22 points already on 7-for-13 shooting. The rest of the Rockets are 5 for 19, including Chris Paul being just 1 for 5.
After being down 12-0, though, currently trailing 38-36 isn’t so bad.
Further update: Klay Thompson has a left knee strain and is back in the game. At least temporarily, crisis averted for Golden State.
In the “something to monitor” department, particularly with Andre Iguodala out with an injury: Klay Thompson has gone to the locker room.
Thompson came back in to start the second quarter before exiting the game and heading to the locker room. He’s remained in the locker room for a few minutes, with no word as to why.
It’s one thing to be down Iguodala, a versatile defender with a high basketball IQ. It would entirely be another to be without Thompson, the second-best shooter in the world behind his fellow Splash Brother, Stephen Curry, and who has been remarkably durable throughout his career.
The Rockets have recovered from their disastrous start to the game. But they still find themselves in a hole.
Golden State leads 28-19 after one, with Kevin Durant scoring a quick 10 points to lead both teams. The Warriors have turned four Rockets turnovers into 10 points, and if it weren’t for Golden State committing four turnovers themselves, this could be even worse.
What also could’ve made it worse is if James Harden hadn’t gone 4 for 6 in the first quarter, scoring nine points. The rest of Houston’s roster combined to go 3 for 24, including 1-for-6 from three-point range. Chris Paul, for the second straight game, went scoreless in the first, missing all three shots he took.
Monday afternoon, Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni declared that, heading into Game 4, all of the pressure was on the Golden State Warriors.
“Right now, to me, Golden State has all the pressure,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve got to win tomorrow night. We should come in with a little bit of a swagger and giddyup in our game and see if we can get it.”
Five minutes into Game 4, that’s not looking so hot.
Houston has begun the game missing its first seven shots, while Golden State went gone 5 for 9, opening up a 12-0 lead as a result.
Houston did finally hop on the board at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter – but that only came when James Harden got a layup after a complete miscommunication by Golden State saw Stephen Curry throw the ball to an unsuspecting Draymond Green, resulting in a fast break.
To say this is the start the Rockets needed is a massive understatement. With no Andre Iguodala for Golden State, this is a game Houston should be able to win. But the Warriors have come out like a house of fire, swarming on defense and hitting open shots offensively.
It appears Golden State senses it has a chance to deliver a knockout blow. Given how this game has started, it might be right.
The Golden State Warriors have built their dynastic run around one of the greatest lineups in the history of basketball: five versatile, playmaking offensive players and interchangeable defensive players. The lineup, which features Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, and upgraded from Harrison Barnes to Kevin Durant in 2016, has been the most devastating five-man unit in basketball over the past four years
But that lineup will not be available in full, after the Warriors announced Iguodala would miss Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Iguodala’s knee injury — officially dubbed a left lateral leg contusion by Golden State — had him listed as doubtful for Game 4 Monday, before being upgraded to questionable Tuesday afternoon and then ruled out before tip-off.
That leaves a pair of crucial questions for Warriors Coach Steve Kerr as he prepares for Tuesday night’s pivotal game: How will he proceed with his starting lineup? And with which lineup will he finish the game?
The choice over who to insert into the starting lineup will likely come down to whether he wants to go big (Kevon Looney) or small (Nick Young). Looney has worked well as a switch defender for Golden State in this series, just as the Warriors had expected he would all season long. But with the Warriors essentially down to using Looney and Draymond Green at center (along with, potentially, rookie Jordan Bell in small doses), Kerr may opt not to stretch Looney’s time on the court more than he has to.
The other option, then, would be Young. That would allow Golden State to be more explosive offensively — Young is a far better shooter than Iguodala — but much worse defensively. It also could allow the Rockets to take advantage of Young enough to force the Warriors to move away from this lineup later.
Young started in place of Stephen Curry in the first two games the Warriors’ series against the New Orleans Pelicans, and that experiment did not work. Houston is even more explosive, and starting him against the Rockets could well be a disaster.
The option to close games, though, is equally intriguing. Both Looney and Young likely will be options, depending on how the game plays out. The bet here, however, is that Golden State will choose Shaun Livingston to replace Iguodala in the closing five. Livingston has filled that role before, is far more defensively sound than Young and gives Golden State the same switchability that Iguodala does when he’s on the court. Livingston’s length, in particular, could give Chris Paul trouble — something Golden State has been able to do successfully throughout the first three games of this series.
After the Warriors won Game 3, this series felt over. And even without Iguodala, the Warriors still should be favorites to win this series. But the margin for error is narrowed and tough choices will be ahead for Kerr. How the Warriors react in Iguodala’s absence will be the most important thing to watch in Game 4 — and could decide whether Houston will return home with a real chance of sending the defending champions to their summer vacations without the back-to-back titles the basketball world has spent all season expecting them to win.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors, 9 p.m., TNT (Golden State leads 2-1)
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