OAKLAND — The goal of winning 73 has been replaced by 16, and the Golden State Warriors took step No. 1 to earning championship No. 5 on Saturday when they beat the Houston Rockets 104-78.
The team insisted it wouldn’t be easy beforehand, but the Dubs’ performance belied their statements as they raced out to a 33-15 lead in the first quarter. The Rockets failed to take a significant chunk out of the deficit despite Stephen Curry missing the majority of the second half — and once they built their lead, the Dubs’ advantage never fell below 15.
Curry left for the locker room near the end of the second quarter after tweaking his ankle, shifting the attention from the play on the floor to the Warriors sideline. He started the second half, but played fewer than three minutes before having an extended discussion with coaches and heading back into the bowels of Oracle Arena.
“I didn’t like the way he was moving when he went back out in the third quarter,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “He wanted to stay in, but he wasn’t moving well, so we weren’t going to play him regardless of [a potential Houston comeback].”
But the Rockets never made it close enough to test that assertion. So, Curry didn’t return to the game, logging just 20 minutes — his fewest since January 2.
Most members of the team showed due concern for potentially losing the NBA MVP at the worst possible time, Curry’s Splash Brother seemed unbothered.
“He’ll be alright,” Klay Thompson said. “It was a precautionary [measure], no point to put him in there. We can hold a 20-point lead without him.”
Before the injury, the Rockets’ resident irritant Patrick Beverley harmed his team by playing his role a little too effectively, raising Curry’s ire after an early whistle. What resulted was a shoving match, double technical fouls, and 13 points from Curry over the next six minutes.
“You have to be physical, period,” Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, supporting his starting point guard. “If you’re going to defend anyone, if you’re going to stop anyone, you’ve got to be physical. All the great defenses are. There’s never been a good finesse defense.”
Playing without the Greatest Basketball Player on the Planet, the Dubs struggled early in the third quarter. After a short adjustment period, the reserves were able to shift momentum by restoring the defensive tone set by the first unit.
Marreese Speights provided an offensive jolt again for the Champs, scoring 12 points and grabbing five boards. Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa were both four-for-five from the field. But Kerr was most complimentary of veteran Andre Iguodala, citing his plus-24 performance and calming effect.
The story of the night, though, was Curry’s ankle. How and if that improves over the next few days before Game 2 on Monday will be a point of consternation.
The 3-point king said that he isn’t worried about his ability to play, but his coach put that back into perspective, as he did several times in the game by not allowing Curry back onto the floor.
“We’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse,” Kerr said. “Obviously we’re hoping that we’re going to be in the playoffs for the next couple of months. So we don’t want to take any chances.”
On a night when Golden State was able to run away with a playoff victory despite Curry playing just 20 minutes, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the victory was not allowing James Harden a free throw attempt.
“No comment,” Harden said after the game. “… How is that possible, though?”