OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors survived a taut and contentious opening sport of their extremely anticipated second-round collection with the Houston Rockets because of a supremely grooved Kevin Durant — and one essential late dagger from Stephen Curry.
The Warriors additionally left little doubt that their unexpectedly vital exertions simply to get out of the Western Conference’s first spherical, and the way these efforts could have an effect on this title protection, are on the forefront of their pondering.
Clearly feeling a way of urgency even earlier than the opening tip, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr made a drastic lineup change for Game 1, placing his most completed lineup on the ground from the beginning. Kerr additionally went deeper into his bench than regular, utilizing 10 of his 13 out there gamers to counter fatigue and Golden State’s turnover hassle to safe a 104-100 victory in a raggedy opener for either side.
With the Warriors enjoying simply 36 hours and alter after being dragged by the Los Angeles Clippers to a pricey sixth sport — in which Klay Thompson and Curry sustained ankle accidents — Kerr moved the wily supersub Andre Iguodala into his beginning lineup and shifted the 6-foot-7 Draymond Green to middle. It was the primary time Golden State’s so-called Hamptons Five began a sport this season, but it surely was a measure Kerr thought he couldn’t resist given the unsure well being of his star guards.
“You get to the playoffs and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Kerr mentioned. “You’ve got to play your best players and see what happens.”
Durant responded with 35 factors — 24 in the second half — to decrease the harm of Golden State’s 20 turnovers. He matched James Harden’s level complete for Houston and boosted his scoring common over the Warriors’ previous 5 playoff video games to 40.2 factors, with practically 55 p.c taking pictures. Green (14 factors, 9 rebounds and 9 assists) and Iguodala (14 factors and 6-for-7 taking pictures in 34 minutes) additionally responded with sturdy video games to ease the calls for on Thompson and Curry.
Thompson, although, nonetheless logged greater than 41 minutes regardless of pregame issues that he may not even be capable to play. And Curry survived the ultimate six-plus minutes of regulation with 5 fouls to empty a decisive Three-pointer with 25.9 seconds left in an isolation mismatch in opposition to the Houston reserve middle Nene after the Rockets had drawn to 100-98.
The Rockets arrived in the Bay Area on Friday, earlier than the Warriors had even completed off the Clippers, feeling their very own urgency. Still stinging from final season’s epic convention finals in which it squandered two possibilities to remove Golden State, Houston is effectively conscious that this rematch — albeit one spherical earlier — has once more been extensively billed because the de facto N.B.A. finals.
“They know this is what it’s for,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni mentioned of his gamers earlier than tipoff.
Houston’s prevailing postgame emotion, nonetheless, was frustration — not solely from a missed alternative to swipe home-court benefit from the two-time defending champions but additionally with the refereeing of the sport. The Rockets had been aggrieved by what they deemed a number of Golden State closeouts on Three-point makes an attempt by Harden that ought to have been whistled for fouls.
“I just want a fair shake, man,” Harden mentioned. “Call the game how it’s supposed to be called and that’s it. And I’ll live with the results.”
Eric Gordon scored 27 factors in help of Harden’s 35, however Houston missed 16 of its first 18 makes an attempt from Three-point vary and was simply 14 for 47 over all. Harden, who missed 19 of 28 photographs from the sphere, failed to attract a foul from Green on his Three-point attempt with 9.1 seconds to go, which led to Chris Paul’s ejection seconds later for protesting the noncall.
Paul appeared to make contact with the referee Josh Tiven in incomes his second technical foul. It was the 12th ejection of the N.B.A. playoffs after simply three throughout the 2018 postseason.
“When you land three feet ahead of where you shoot the ball from, that really ain’t my issue,” Green mentioned, arguing that Harden didn’t deserve greater than his 14 journeys to the foul line as a result of he repeatedly leaned into the defender or prolonged his arms in search of a whistle.
Nearly a 12 months has handed for the reason that Warriors overturned double-digit deficits in each Game 6 and Game 7 to climb out of a Three-2 collection deficit and advance to the title spherical, however the rivalry between these groups by no means actually goes dormant.
According to 4 individuals acquainted with the courtships who weren’t licensed to debate them publicly, Philadelphia made profitable makes an attempt final July to rent Warriors General Manager Bob Myers or Houston’s Daryl Morey to take over the 76ers’ entrance workplace. But Myers and Morey elected to remain the place they’re, figuring out they might in all probability be reunited in the playoffs in a collection whose survivor immediately turns into the consensus favourite to win all of it.
When Houston slumped to fourth in the West late in the common season, its tumble virtually immediately begot a idea that it is likely to be higher for the Rockets to face the dynastic Warriors in the second spherical — largely owing to freshness.
The 31-point lead Golden State blew in Game 2 in opposition to the Clippers in the largest collapse in playoff historical past, coupled with the Warriors’ failure to shut out the collection in a Game 5 at dwelling, appeared to provide the speculation much more credence. Especially after Thompson and Curry sustained their Game 6 accidents.
Morey, although, admitted in a podcast interview with the previous New York Times reporter Howard Beck that he “did personally want to face the Warriors later.” After spending practically a half-decade attempting to assemble a roster that would topple the Warriors, with out success thus far, Morey was clearly hesitant to publicly declare benefits of any type for his workforce in his look on “The Full 48.”
The Warriors duly made Morey’s warning look prudent with the way in which they saved feeding a affected person and environment friendly Durant in the fourth quarter, rendered Houston’s Clint Capela a nonfactor and in the end secured a 1-Zero collection result in take into Tuesday night time’s Game 2.
“There’s never been anybody like him: 6-11, handles the ball, shoots 3s, passes, defends,” Kerr mentioned of Durant.
After the Warriors halted a uncommon two-game playoff shedding streak at dwelling, Green credited Kerr’s lineup change as the opposite key to enrich Durant.
“So many times you kind of go in the series and you wait to take a loss to make that first adjustment,” Green mentioned. “I think we just got ahead of it.”