Up by two with 6.7 seconds left in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets swarmed Stephen Curry off the in-bound pass. As the Golden State Warriors point guard tried to advance the ball up to Draymond Green, the Warriors’ forward took his eye off the ball for a moment, and glanced ahead at Eric Gordon.
Gordon had hit a crucial shot earlier in the fourth quarter. Responding to a Green put-back to cut the lead to one, Gordon had stepped up and buried a three on the left wing to keep momentum with the home bench.
All Gordon had to do in the waning seconds, though, was fall. Curry’s pass hit Green in the fingers, and as he dove forward to corral the ball, he took out Gordon’s legs. Gordon fell, then headed to the foul line, where he hit both free throws to ice a 98-94 Western Conference Finals Game 5 win for Houston.
“We were supposed to score,” Green said. “I lost the ball. There’s kind of not much more to it.”
By all rights, Houston should have led by double digits early, and wire-to-wire in what was arguably Golden State’s most important game of the Steve Kerr era. Having seen their NBA-record streak of 16 straight home playoff wins broken in Game 4, the Warriors now return to Oakland trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the series.
The Warriors — who averaged 13 turnovers per game during the regular season — had as many turnovers (18) as assists, with six of those turnovers coming from Green.
“I thought we got much better movement, but turnovers were killers,” Kerr said. “Eighteen of them, a lot of them unforced, but the movement was much better, the offense was much better.”
Had Rockets guard James Harden been able to hit anything close to his normal output (averaging 9.4 makes on 22.2 shots this season), or had the Rockets as a team been able to shoot the way they did from three this season (35.1 percent), the Warriors would not have been as close as they were for the duration of the game.
While Gordon led Houston with 24 off the bench, Harden went 5-for-21 (0-for-11 from three), and the Rockets, as a team, went 28-for-78 (37.2 percent) from the field and 13-for-43 (30.2 percent) from three, allowing the Warriors to keep things close, and take the lead in the third quarter.
Golden State weathered a first-quarter barrage where Houston hoisted up 16 shots in six minutes, going 0-for-6 from three. The Warriors’ own actions hadn’t been crisp, but for the play of Kevin Durant, who got out on several breaks and accounted for six of the Warriors’ first eight points, going 3-for-6.
After starting out 5-of-16, the Warriors went 3-of-5 to close an 11-point gap to five over the final three minutes of the first quarter. Still, the Rockets’ physical defense kept dragging Durant and the rest of the Warriors into isolation situations, and preventing ball movement, prompting Kerr, during an exchange shown on TNT’s telecast, to counsel Durant to trust his open teammates using a playoff anecdote from his time with Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls.
It didn’t work. Durant recorded no assists, and the Warriors had 18 assists on 32 field goals
Instead of taking advantage of a very stagnant and inconsistent Warriors offense to expand the lead, the Rockets shot just 8-of-24 from the field, and 3-of-14 from three in the opening stanza, failing to capitalize on five Golden State turnovers.
After going scoreless in the first, both Curry (22 points) and Klay Thompson (23 points) got on the board in the second, as Houston’s shooting woes continued (8-for-21) and the Warriors began to move the ball.
With 4:49 to go in the half, after Kevon Looney passed up a teardrop in the lane to find a cutting Curry on the baseline for a jumper. Down 38-32, Kerr yelled, “Did you see that? Did you see that? More of that.”
Over the final 5:32 of the first half, the Warriors went 5-of-9 from the floor to power a 17-7 run to tie the game at 45. The Rockets went 3-for-10 in that span, and failed to score on their final seven possessions, turning the ball over three times. Their main shooters — Paul and Harden — went a combined 4-for-20 before halftime.
In Game 4, thanks to the injury to forward Andre Iguodala — he’s day-to-day (lateral left knee contusion) but did not play on Thursday — Kerr played four players 39 minutes or more. On Thursday, he played 10 different players and spread the minutes (eight players played 12 or more), giving David West seven minutes of first-half run. The extra rest helped, as Thompson — after scoring seven points in the second quarter — scored 10 in the third, as the teams traded leads.
The Rockets opened the fourth quarter on a 10-5 run, but Thompson forced two bad, late-clock shots by Paul before burying a step-up three from the right side with 8:08 to go. With seven minutes to go, asEric Gordon shot three free throws, Kerr told his bench that they’d only had four backdoor cuts.
Even though the game was within four points, the Warriors still hadn’t shown the kind of movement he wanted. As in Game 4, the Warriors kept looking for isolation plays, particularly Durant, who was harassed by Ariza throughout the evening.
After going 0-for-7 in the first half, Paul went 6-for-12 for 20 points after the intermission, and even cribbed Curry’s trademark shimmy, waggling his shoulders in Curry’s face after hitting a seemingly impossible late-clock lean-in three against Thompson with 6:24 to go in the third. He left the game later after he tweaked his right hamstring forcing a missed shot from Quinn Cook.
“Things don’t work out and he didn’t get to the Western Conference Finals for a thousand other reasons than his heart and brains,” Mike D’Antoni said of Paul, who went 4-of-9 from three in the second half. “He just won us another game by gutting it out and doing what he does. He did a lot, but Eric Gordon down the stretch was huge. He came up with steal, some shots, some foul shots. He’s been huge the last two games.”
Gordon shot 10 free throws, six on three-point shots. Harden — who had just one free throw attempt in the first half — got to the line eight times after halftime (going 9-for-9 on the game), and became much more active on defense, picking off a bad Green in-bounds to Durant with 5:54 to go for a two-handed flush off the break to put the Rockets up by six.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Kerr said. “We reached on James. James shot nine free throws. We’ve got to be a little more disciplined. I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I’m seeing out there, and we defended them beautifully tonight. We got everything we needed. Just too many turnovers, too many reaches, and if we settle down a little bit, we’ll be in really good shape.”Draymond GreenGolden State WarriorsKlay ThompsonNBAStephen CurrySteve Kerr