OAKLAND, Calif. — Facing their first elimination game in nearly two years, the Golden State Warriors spent the first half of Saturday night’s Game 6 misfiring from three-point range and mishandling defensive assignments. They found themselves down by 10 points to a Houston Rockets team without star point guard Chris Paul.
A stunning postseason dismissal on their home floor was staring the Warriors in the face. Then the second half happened, unfolding in equally stunning fashion. And, eventually, order was restored.
The Warriors rolled to a 115-86 victory, holding Houston’s high-powered offense to an almost unfathomable 25 second-half points (including just nine in the fourth quarter) and sending this series back to Houston on Monday night — giving the NBA back-to-back Game 7s to close Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s probably just how disappointed we were in the first six minutes of the game,” said the Warriors’ Klay Thompson, who had a game-high 35 points (including 9-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc. “We just didn’t want to go out like that. We wanted to force Game 7 so badly.”
Before the game, with so much on the line — and in the wake of a pair of fourth-quarter collapses earlier in this series — Warriors Coach Steve Kerr didn’t show any concern about the mental state of his team heading into its biggest test in two seasons.
“Oh, I know what their makeup is,” he said. “They’ve already shown me that. . . . I know what they’re going to bring, and I know the situation that they’re in and we’re in. We’ve responded well to these kind of situations in the past, so I’m confident. We’re confident.”
But then the game started, and it looked as if he couldn’t have been more wrong.
After Golden State scored the first four points, Houston went on a 13-2 run. After Golden State bounced back to tie the score at 15, Houston went on another big run — this time 24-7 — over the final 4:19 of the first quarter to take a 39-22 lead.
“If you have any idea, let me know,” Kerr said after the game when asked about his team’s slow start, “because I have no clue why we are like this. It’s what we do.”
At that point, the emotions swirling around inside Oracle Arena could best be described as a mix of confusion and panic. This was not how things were supposed to go — especially with Paul sitting on the sideline in warmups.
Things began to change in the second quarter. Golden State finally started to get going — at one point cutting Houston’s lead to five — and began to look like the team that was expected to show up when the game began. But, once again, Houston responded, pushing the lead back to 12 and then going into halftime up 61-51.
It was an incredibly impressive performance from Houston through 24 minutes — validating the belief of Coach Mike D’Antoni that the Rockets wouldn’t feel sorry for themselves in the wake of the cruel loss of Paul in his first appearance on this stage of his Hall of Fame career.
“No, not the way they feel or how they play,” D’Antoni said. “Now, there is some concern that we’re missing Chris Paul. But other than that, they’ll rally and they’ll [give their best].”
But then came the second half. And, eventually, a combination of fatigue and sheer talent won out.
“Once we settled down defensively, stayed with people and stopped making mistakes defensively, we wore them down a little bit,” Kerr said.
The Warriors went on an 11-0 run to start the third quarter, taking the lead for the first time since the game’s opening minutes, then went on a 9-0 run later in the third to take the lead back from Houston for good. By the time the quarter ended, Golden State had outscored Houston 33-16 and held an 84-77 lead heading into the fourth.
It was a similar situation to where Houston found itself after three quarters in Game 4 — a game the Rockets came back to win on this very court four days earlier. This time, though, the result was slightly different.
If there was any fear the Warriors would let Houston back into this one, they erased it immediately with a 17-2 run to start the quarter. By the time the fourth had ended, Golden State had outscored Houston 31-9 — putting this game to bed long before the final whistle.
It would’ve been hard to imagine that happening after the first quarter. But with their season on the line, the Warriors responded in championship fashion. Now the series comes down to one game Monday night in Houston, with a spot in the NBA Finals against Boston or Cleveland on the line.
A 15-2 run for the Warriors to open the fourth quarter has not only pushed Golden State’s lead to 20, and put Houston’s chances of winning this game on red alert.
With the crowd finally into the game, and with the Rockets (essentially playing six guys) looking visibly tired, Golden State has begun to put the hammer down in the second half, the Warriors have slowly but surely pushed the lead out to a place where it doesn’t look like it will be coming back from.
The only question now is when D’Antoni will officially waive the white flag and pull his starters, with a Game 7 on Memorial Day looming.
Just like in Game 4, Golden State had a massive third quarter to swing a close game in its favor heading into the fourth. Now, we’ll see if the Warriors can do what they couldn’t in that game: close it out with a win.
Golden State doubled up Houston in the third, outscoring the Rockets 32-16 to take an 84-77 lead after three quarters.
Klay Thompson has 26 points in the game – including 12 in the third alone – to lead the Warriors, while Stephen Curry has 22 and six assists and Kevin Durant has 21.
James Harden has 32 points, and remains in the game, having sat just one minute in the entire game thus far. Perhaps Mike D’Antoni will try to get him a breather, but virtually no one else on the Rockets can get going right now, making it tough for him to consider that.
It looked like the Warriors had landed their traditional third-quarter haymaker with an 11-0 run to take the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.
But then, like they have all season, the Rockets responded.
That’s mostly been because of the play of James Harden, who already has eight points in the opening seven minutes of the second half to help Houston maintain what is now a 74-70 lead with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
Some interesting decisions now lie ahead for both teams. Harden, who is known to tire late in games, has only sat for one minute so far. When will Mike D’Antoni get him a breather? Will he at all?
Meanwhile, when will Golden State take out any of its four all-stars in the second half – and for how long? Chess moves await on both sides.
Just when it looked like the Warriors were about to kick the door down, the Rockets closed the first half strongly to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
Golden State has showed signs of warming up, but still are shooting 4-for-18 from three-point range – including 1-for-7 from Stephen Curry – while Kevin Durant has gone 3-for-11, including six shots in and around the paint, and missing his first three free throws of the series after making 39 straight.
Houston, meanwhile, is getting all of its offense from three players: James Harden (22 points), Eric Gordon (16) and Trevor Ariza (14). They have 52 points – one more than Golden State’s entire team – and the rest of the Rockets have only combined to score nine.
The Rockets have showed signs of bending so far here in the second quarter, but they’ve managed not to break.
An and-one layup from James Harden just pushed Houston’s lead back to seven, as Golden State has continued to chip away at what once was a 17-point Rockets advantage. Harden is already up to 19 points, four rebounds and six assists, combining with Eric Gordon (13 points) and Trevor Ariza (14 points) to score 46 of Houston’s 52 points.
Houston will need a lot more where that came from to stay in front for the next 27 minutes, and advance to the Rockets’ first NBA Finals in 23 seasons
The Warriors are beginning to show signs of life.
After trailing by 17 at the end of the first quarter, Golden State has cut that deficit to nine midway through the second after finally starting to hit some shots from deep.
Golden State is 3-for-8 from three, and 7-for-12 overall, in the second, which is helping the Warriors slowly creep back into this game.
Something to watch: James Harden only got about a minute of rest to start the second. As someone who has shown signs of fatigue as games, and series, have progressed, that’ll be something to monitor.
This series has yet to have a game where the Rockets went wild from three-point range.
It’s happening in Game 6. And it might end Golden State’s season.
By going 8-for-12 from three in the first quarter – and that doesn’t include James Harden getting fouled on a three-point attemps at the end of the quarter, and hitting all three free throws – Houston has opened up a 39-22 lead after the first quarter, leaving the sellout crowd here in Oakland in stunned silence as a result.
The Warriors are just 8-for-22 from the field, including 1-for-7 from three, and have already committed four turnovers. Remarkably, Houston has committed five – or else its lead may be even greater.
James Harden already has 15 points, four rebounds and four assists for the Rockets, who look quite comfortable and are playing with no pressure in the wake of Chris Paul’s injury. Golden State, on the other hand, looks wound quite tightly with its season on the line.
The mood inside Oracle Arena is an anxious one.
Despite playing without Chris Paul, the Rockets have taken control of this game early, and lead 27-19 with 2:03 left in the first quarter.
James Harden, who hadn’t made a three-pointer since the second quarter of Game 4, finally broke a string of 22 straight misses with a bomb from 27 feet to push that lead to eight, sending an anxious murmur through the crowd here in Oakland.
Golden State has gotten some good looks, but is 8-for-22 overall and 1-for-7 from three-point range. Kevin Durant alone has gone 1-for-6 to start the game.
So much for the Rockets feeling sorry for themselves without Chris Paul.
A quick 13-2 run from Houston in the opening minutes of this game has allowed the Rockets to take a 13-6 lead and quiet this Oracle Arena crowd.
Eric Gordon, starting in place of Paul, already has eight points for Houston, while Trevor Ariza has added another five. Yes, the Warriors have gotten – and missed – some quality shots, but they still remain stuck in the same kind of middle gear that Houston has kept them in throughout this series.
Golden State has already made a couple of boneheaded turnovers, and simply look out of sync. It’s been so impressive to see how Houston has played them throughout this series. Any doubts about Houston’s ability to hang on this stage have been answered 100 times over.
The Warriors will be without Andre Iguodala again in Game 6, as he will be sidelined with a bone bruise in his knee for a third straight game. But the Warriors will, quite surprisingly, have second year guard Patrick McCaw available to play.
“He hasn’t played in a couple months, but he’s healthy enough now to suit up, and we’ll see what happens,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said prior to the game.
“He’s gotten a lot better over the last couple weeks. He’s scrimmaged a couple times. His back is fine. Had a little knee soreness, I think, from the inactivity. He’s made it through that. So, here he is. And he’ll suit up.”
It was quite a surprise to see McCaw’s status change, as he went from being listed out every day since he suffered a bruised spine in a rough fall against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento on May 31, up until Friday afternoon, when he was still listed as out.
But after his status shifted to questionable Saturday afternoon, he was deemed ready to at least play some minutes in Game 6. And while it seemed crazy to think McCaw would actually get significant minutes in such a huge spot – with Golden State trailing 3-2 in this best-of-seven series – Kerr went out of his way to avoid ruling out the possibility.
After all, the Warriors did make him active for a reason.
“It would be a tough spot to put him in, in the meat of the game, with not having played for a long time. But at this point, it’s all hands on deck, obviously. You never know how the game’s going to play out. I had teammates who literally played one play in a playoff game and made a play and helped us win a game.
“So you just never know.”
What we do know is that Iguodala will remain out for a third straight game, after banging his knee late in Game 3. Kerr said it’s a matter of waiting until he can run without pain.
“Still just day-to-day. It’s a bone bruise, and those are hard to predict. Until he’s able to really run without pain, then he can’t play.
“Again, it’s a day-to-day thing.”
For the Rockets, Eric Gordon will start in place of Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a hamstring strain he suffered in the final minute of Houston’s Game 5 victory. Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni confirmed before the game that Luc Mbah a Moute would return to the rotation in Game 6, and said his rotation could get deeper as the game progresses, depending on how it goes.
Injuries are part of the journey through the NBA playoffs. An unfortunate part, to be sure. But an unavoidable one.
All four teams still standing in this year’s postseason have had injury issues throughout the season. The Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward on the season’s opening night, and later lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. The Golden State Warriors had Stephen Curry miss 37 games this season, their other three all-stars sit out for various lengths of time, and have been without Andre Iguodala for losses to the Rockets in Games 4 and 5.
But as the final three games before this year’s NBA Finals play out over the remainder of this Memorial Day weekend, two all-stars — Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets — have been forced to the sidelines with injuries at the season’s most crucial juncture.
Love was officially ruled out of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night after he was placed in the concussion protocol Saturday. Love, who has already suffered a pair of concussions in the past couple of seasons, collided with Boston’s Jayson Tatum in the opening minutes of Game 6, immediately went to the locker room and never returned. When Love wasn’t initially said to be in the concussion protocol Saturday morning, there was some thought he’d be able to try to play in Game 7.
But, early Saturday afternoon, Cleveland announced he had been placed into the protocol — and, as a result, he will not play in Game 7.
This series might have already been over if Tatum hadn’t collided with LeBron James, slamming his shoulder into James’ jaw, late in the second quarter of Game 2 in Boston. The Cavaliers had controlled the game until that point, and both James and his team looked completely different in the second half of that game. Now another collision has led to a key player missing the biggest game of the season to date.
Meanwhile, the Rockets are likely going to have to beat the Warriors in one of the final two games of the Western Conference finals — either Saturday night in Oakland or Monday night back in Houston — without Paul. Having suffered a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 — an injury that was so bad that Paul didn’t even attempt to run back and play defense in a one-point game with 50 seconds remaining, giving Golden State a 5-on-4 advantage it couldn’t capitalize on — Houston ruled out Paul for Game 6 Friday morning.
Given the nature of hamstring injuries, it seems exceedingly unlikely Paul will be able to play in Game 7. And, if he does try, it’s hard to believe he’ll be very effective.
So what will Houston do? Expect a lot more of Eric Gordon, who has had a very good series and will need to be even better to give Houston a chance. Perhaps Luc Mbah a Moute, who was a critical piece for Houston this season but has been shelved because he’s looked totally different after dislocating his shoulder twice on dunks this season, will get another opportunity.
Neither, though, can provide what Paul can at both ends. It’s a completely unfair thing to happen. Houston deserves the lead it has in this series, and, frankly, deserves to win it. The Rockets have dictated the pace and style of play in this series, and have the Warriors completely out their element. Without Paul, though, the chances of Houston pulling this off decrease significantly.
It’s a shame, to be sure, as is Love missing Game 7. But luck — including with injuries — is a part of any championship journey. The Cavaliers and Rockets are learning that the hard way this weekend.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (Rockets lead, 3-2): 9 p.m., TNT
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