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Golden State Warriors ride third quarter to a rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals

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Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket against the Houston Rockets during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on May 26, 2018. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The Golden State Warriors had been here before. A team that had seen three Game 7s under Steve Kerr, a team that had been to three straight NBA Finals, a team that knew how to deal with pressure, was folding under it.

Against a Houston Rockets team that had point guard Chris Paul on the bench due to a severe hamstring strain, a team that had dared and baited and taunted Golden State all season, a team build expressly built to beat the reigning champions, the Warriors did exactly what the Rockets wanted.

Kevin Durant played iso ball. Klay Thompson got into foul trouble guarding James Harden. Stephen Curry couldn’t hit a three. The Warriors turned the ball over and didn’t communicate. Until the third quarter. That’s when Golden State, which trailed by as many as 15 in the first half, used a 33-15 third quarter outburst to survive and advance to their fourth NBA Finals in four years, with a 101-92 win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

“It was a great series, but they hit shots,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni.

The Warriors overcame the largest halftime deficit — 11 points — ever overcome in a Game 7 in NBA history, in large part thanks to 27 points and 10 assists from Stephen Curry. Durant finished with a team-high 34 points, and after going iso-heavy early, got into the offense, and finished with five assists. Curry — who started 3-of-10 from the field, finished 10-of-22. Both Curry and Durant scored 19 points in the second half.

The Warriors, who will now welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to Oracle Arena on May 31, started Game 7, according to Kerr, by playing worst quarter of basketball he’d seen them play in his time as head coach.

Klay Thompson — who hadn’t had more than three fouls in a game since March 2 at Atlanta — had three before the end of the first quarter. Without the spacing Thompson’s presence affords, Golden State couldn’t get into any kind of offensive rhythm, and with Rockets having scored nine points off of 10 first-half turnovers, and 10 first-half turnovers and nine second-chance points off of 10 offensive rebounds, Game 7 looked to be well in-hand.

Kerr, according to Curry on TNT’s broadcast, didn’t have a lot to say at halftime.

“There was a calmness about the locker room, knowing how bad we played, we still had a shot, down 10,” Curry said. “If we locked in again on our keys — that’s been the theme of our whole series; if we don’t do it, we see how great they are as a team — but we locked in, and we showed how great we are. Second half was unbelievable. The atmosphere was crazy. Game 7, man, happy to be back in the finals.”

Then, Golden State, which held a +50 third quarter margin in the series, shot 12-of-22 from the field in the third quarter, and 7-of-12 from beyond the three-point arc, as the Rockets went 0-for-14 from three.

As Houston missed eight shots in a row, the Warriors crept closer. Curry hit a three in the right corner off a borderline moving screen from Jordan Bell with 5:21 to go, bringing the Warriors within two. A three-pointer by Durant with 4:21 to go in the third tied things up, and then a left-corner three by Curry gave the Warriors their first lead since they held a 9-7 advantage with 8:50 to go in the first quarter.

Curry and Durant hit four of their first six three-pointers in the third, with Curry scoring 11 straight points. With 2:11 to go in the quarter, Curry hit a step-up three from up top after Draymond Green — off a stolen rebound — shoveled it ahead in transition. The Rockets, on the other hand, would miss an NBA-record 27 straight three-pointers.

The Warriors outscored the Rockets 66-31 in the third quarters of Games 6 and 7 combined.

With 7:40 left in the game, Durant hit a rise-up three off the dribble and over Harden to give the Warriors a 86-75 lead. Then, Curry stepped up to hit a three over center Clint Capela to give the Warriors a 13-point lead.

After a 7-0 fourth-quarter run by the Rockets, Durant slipped into the right corner to sink a three and halted any potential momentum swing. Durant scored 19 in the second half, and with 3:15 to go in the game, had scored nine of the Warriors’ last 14 points, as Golden State was content to send Clint Capela to the line repeatedly, trading 1-of-2s at the charity stripe for threes on the other end.

Curry finished 7-of-15 from three, and Thompson, after early struggles getting in rhythm, finished with 19 points, going 3-of-7 from three. Green, though he struggled mightily from three throughout the series (2-for-17), led the Warriors with 13 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.

Curry’s 10 assists were a series-high, and the most he’s had in a game since Feb. 22 against the Los Angeles Clippers. He had only four double-digit assist games during the regular season.

Harden finished 12-of-29, and 2-of-13 from three for 32 points. The Rockets went 7-for-44 from three, while Golden State went 16-of-39 from beyond the arc.

“One half of basketball, two games, we didn’t have the same energy we had in the first half of two games,” Harden said.

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