They missed Steph Curry. What, you thought the Warriors wouldn’t? But the Warriors didn’t set the all-time record for regular-season victories — 73, as you know so well — because they were dependent on only one player, even if he is the MVP.
They are a team, and what they didn’t miss Monday night at Oracle was a chance again to beat the Houston Rockets.
Not until pregame warmups, when Curry threw up a few jumpers and some other shots off his sore right ankle, was the decision made that even if he wanted to play, the people in charge, head coach Steve Kerr and others, would not allow him to play. They were thinking not only of this first-round playoff series, in which the Warriors now lead, two games to none, but about the basketball future for this special 28-year-old.
That even without Curry — “We’re going to miss those four 29-footers that are backbreakers,” Kerr had said before tipoff — the Warriors whipped Houston, this time, 115-106, was no surprise. With Steph, without Steph, the W’s have taken 14 of the last 15 from the Rockets.
Klay Thompson was the W’s top scorer, 34 points, but what won the game, as it wins so many post-season games, was defense. From around three minutes left in the second quarter to some four minutes gone in the third, roughly seven minutes. Houston didn’t hit on a field goal attempt.
The Rockets made several runs in the second half, but always there was Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala or, subbing for Curry, Shaun Livingston to swat away a pass or confront a shot.
Without Curry, and his 30 points a game, so many from remarkable distances, the Warrior offense had to work. The fans could chant “Warriors, Warriors,” but there was uncertainty in their words. As if, “Is this going to work?” It worked, a bit awkwardly.
“Without Steph everything was different,” said Green, who with 12 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists wasn’t at all different. “We can’t just come out and give the ball to Klay. We have to give the ball to everyone.”
Including Iguodala, who had his best game since returning 11 days ago after a 13-game absence because of a bad left ankle (Yes ankles are a problem for these big guys racing up and down a wood floor, torquing, twisting, yanking.) He hadn’t scored much the few games after coming back, and only days before, somebody asked Kerr about that. Monday night, off the bench, Iguodala was 7 of 9 from the field, with 18 points, second to Thompson.
“One of the differences,” said Green as willing to make a statement as he is to fight for a loose ball, “is we don’t necessarily give the ball, we have to go get it. We weren’t very disciplined tonight.”
Which is understandable. When Curry’s playing, there’s always the feeling if everything else goes wrong, he’ll throw one in from around the Bay Bridge.
Houston’s James Harden, the NBA’s No. 2 scorer behind Curry, was up to his old tricks. He didn’t get a free throw Saturday in Game 1. But Monday night he had 15 foul shots, made 13 and had 28 points.
The Rockets made 10 three-pointers compared to eight for the Warriors. Thompson had three of those.
“I didn’t change at all,” he said. “I took a few bad shots out there, but I just got in the lane, played defense and lived with that.”
As did the Warriors, successfully. Even without Steph.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.