OAKLAND — Down 94-92 in their own building, after a missed three by James Harden, the Golden State Warriors ran one final play to get the ball to Klay Thompson — arguably one of the best jump shooters of all time. As he caught the ball in the left corner, Thompson couldn’t get a clean three look, and couldn’t get around Trevor Ariza. He threw up a wild shot, to no avail. The buzzer sounded.
The Warriors had one more play thanks to a late foul, but that play — a Stephen Curry three — missed, too.
Golden State — who beat the Rockets by 41 two nights ago — had several chances to put the game and the series away, but the Houston Rockets weathered a 34-point Golden State third-quarter barrage to come away with a 95-92 win, evening the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece.
“They won 65 games for a reason,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Their defense and their physicality made a difference … They fought and scrambled every play.”
The Warriors got out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, holding the Rockets scoreless for 10 straight possessions, but by halftime, that 12-o lead turned into a seven-point deficit. After the first quarter, the Warriors shot just 23-for-65 (35.3 percent).
“I just felt like early in the game we had a chance to really make some hay,” said Golden State head coach Steve Kerr. “We started turning it over and fouling, and it was disappointing because I felt like we could have really stretched the lead. But we sent them to the line over and over again in that first half, the second quarter especially.”
Golden State needed something to get them back into rhythm. That something was Curry.
After scoring eight in the first half, the two-time MVP went off for 17 in the third quarter, including three straight three-pointers. Curry went 6-for-10 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in the third to resuscitate what had become a stagnant offense. In the span of three minutes, Curry scored 11 points to give the Warriors the lead.
“We knew, we talk about a lot, they’re going to make their runs there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. “Idea is to keep attacking, keep going back at them. Sooner or later, it’s like anything else, they hit four or five threes in a row, they’re going to miss two or three. If we keep attacking and score, then we can stay there within range, and we did.”
It was a costly quarter. Curry (28 points on 10-of-26 shooting), Thompson (4-of-13, 10 points), Kevin Durant (9-of-24, 27 points) and Draymond Green (11 points, 8 assists, 13 rebounds, 5 turnovers) each played all 12 minutes.
Without the injured Andre Iguodala — who has served as a defensive quarterback for Golden State — the Warriors were out-of-sorts once minutes got tight, thanks to a shortened rotation, and committed 16 total turnovers — tied for their most in a playoff game this season.
“I felt like in the fourth quarter we just ran out of gas,” Kerr said. “We made that great push in the third, but we weren’t really able to make many subs. We were going well and didn’t want to disrupt our rhythm. Our normal sub pattern was skewed anyway without Andre.”
After the frenetic third, the Warriors began settling for isolation plays at the top of the key, stopped running the offense and stopped the zippy passing that kept the Rockets on their heels.
“They got a little tired in the fourth quarter, and that’s because they felt us for three quarters,” D’Antoni said. “If we can repeat that, and that’s what the formula is, and we’ll see if we can do that when we get to Houston.”
The Warriors shot 3-of-18 in the fourth, and had just one assist.
“We scored 12 points, and it’s not like we were getting great shots, either,” Kerr said. “This game was trench warfare.”
While the Warriors played Durant and Green 43 minutes or more, and Curry and Thompson logged 38 and 39 minutes, respectively, Houston had four players play 40 or more minutes.
“They’re tired, we’re tired, and now you’ve just got to find the will,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not always going to be pretty, but it can always be tough.”
With the series tied at 2-2, the conference finals represent the first time since signing Durant that the Warriors will play a playoff series that goes at least six games.
“Now, we have to understand this is a true playoff experience,” Curry said. “We’re ready for it … We’ve got to be us. That’s going to be the adjustment for Game 5.”