The Rockets tried to get under Steph Curry’s skin from the jump. Curry saw it coming, too. Their little tactic didn’t work.
After Patrick Beverley got tangled up with Curry, and kept grabbing and clutching at Curry until Curry finally had enough and pushed him away, resulting in a double-technical, the MVP caught fire. He scored 13 points in the final six and a half minutes of the first quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, and with each positive play he grew more demonstrative, until he looked like he was ready to fight everyone in the building after drawing an offensive foul on James Harden in front of Houston’s bench.
The Rockets tested the bounds of their own massive stupidity, trying to rattle a player who only gets better when angry, only tries harder when provoked, and somehow harnesses that energy without losing focus or accuracy. Curry only has one weakness, but unfortunately for the Warriors, their worst fear presented itself in the second quarter when Curry injured his ankle on a play that included no contact whatsoever.
“I just tried to change direction, missed the shot, and tried to get back on defense, and then slipped a little bit and felt it slip or tweak,” Curry said. “That’s when the pain came in.”
And that’s when the Rockets caught a glimmer of hope. They were down 26 near the end of the first half, but Curry left the floor, got taped up at halftime, and looked pretty gimpy in the third quarter. Steve Kerr made the decision to remove Curry from the game and keep him on the bench throughout the rest of the contest, no matter how close the Rockets came to threatening Golden State’s massive lead. It didn’t matter much, because after a very slow offensive stretch for the Warriors that saw Houston pull within 16, Golden State pushed the lead back over 20 and that’s where it stayed the rest of the way in a 104-78 Game 1 victory.
There’s no question who will win this series. The Warriors will win three of the next six games (and there are probably three games remaining, maybe four) … even if Curry needs to miss the next two-plus weeks. That’s not enough to comfort everyone, though. We saw what happened right after Curry was pulled from today’s game. The offense grew stagnant, and their turnovers turned into Houston points.
The main questions now revolve around the health of Curry’s ankle — an all-too-familiar story for the MVP, who admitted having flashbacks.
“I was in the back kind of thinking about the San Antonio series a couple years ago where I tweaked it in Game 2 or 3, and it bothered me the rest of the series,” Curry said. “But that’s kind of human nature to kind of think about it for a second, but I was alright and hopefully the way we handle this going forward the next two days I can put it behind me.”
No respect for the Rockets
They don’t deserve any, since they went 41-41 one season after making the Western Conference Finals and showed their cards early on. Desperate for any advantage, they hoped to distract the Warriors with cheap plays — Beverley’s actions toward Curry, Dwight Howard clocking Andre Iguodala in the face, Donatas Montiejunas locking arms with a Warrior at every opportunity and flopping like a drunken Vlade Divac.
This was expected coming in to this series by fans, the media, and the Warriors, who were so unimpressed with Houston’s performance in the first three quarters that they started the fourth quarter with Anderson Varejao and Ian Clark on the floor (Brandon Rush was the only active Warrior who didn’t play).
“(Curry will) be alright,” Klay Thompson told ABC afterward. “It was precautionary, no point to put him in there. We can hold a 20-point lead without him. He’s a tough, tough competitor and he can play through pain so he’ll be out here on Monday.”
What went unsaid: Thompson knows they can hold a 20-point lead … against these Rockets. If this was Game 1 against the Spurs, Curry probably could’ve convinced Kerr to put him back in.
“I tried three separate times. I was 0-for-3. I even went to Luke at one point and tried to get some help. I went to Q, our assistant coach, to try to get some help. We all swung and missed,” said Curry.
“I didn’t like the way he was moving when he went back out in the third quarter. He wanted to stay in, but he wasn’t moving well, so we weren’t going to play him regardless of what happened,” Kerr said.
Kerr called Curry “questionable” for Monday’s Game 2. Curry said he didn’t see a scenario in which he’d sit, but we’ll see just how much the Warriors respect the Rockets on Monday if Curry is held out with a sore ankle that — from what I saw in the locker room when he had his shoes and socks off — didn’t appear swollen.
The Warriors beat this Rockets team on New Year’s Eve, without Curry, in Houston, on the second game of a back-to-back, 114-110.
“He’s a competitor. He wants to play,” said Kerr.
“But we’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse. 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.”
— If the Warriors hold out Curry for an entire game or more, they’re going to need a better offensive performance out of Klay Thompson, who scored 38 points in the New Year’s Eve win without Curry but only made 4-of-14 shots and scored 16 points today.
— The Warriors’ overall defensive effort can’t be ignored. They held the Rockets to below 36% from the field, and it didn’t seem like Houston got many open shots that didn’t include a Rockets player leaning to one side or the other.
— But why can’t the Warriors shoot free throws as well in the playoffs? They shot under 70% from the line in the 2015 playoffs after making almost 77% of their free throws during the 2014-15 regular season, and they only went 16-of-24 from the line today. Granted, the Rockets were even worse (12-for-24).
— Harrison Barnes played very poorly, considering he had a pretty easy defensive assignment and the Rockets stuck Harden on him a good portion of the time. Barnes made 3-of-12 and seemed to be playing in slow-motion at times.
— On the good side, Mo Speights shook off a slow start and scored 12 points while hyping the crowd. And Andre Iguodala, whose shot is off but seems to do everything else, played great defense and dished 7 assists.
“Andre I thought had a brilliant game. He didn’t shoot it well, but this is a typical Andre Iguodala box score. He’s plus-23 and he made one shot,” Kerr said. “He settled us down.”
— The Draymond Green stuff with Motiejunas was pretty amusing. At one point after their little scuffle, Motiejunas made a baseline shot over Green and glared at the Warriors bench. At least, that’s how it looked from my vantage point (top corner of the lower bowl, across from that same bench). Curry and Clark totally lost it, leaning against each other and giggling.
— Green had his standard game for the most part — 12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals, several clever plays, bicep-flexes and screams. But only 4 assists? Especially if Curry needs to rest or isn’t quite himself in Game 2, watch for Green’s point guard skills to be more evident.
— These pants don’t seem to match Green’s on-court persona …
— Dwight Howard had a clumsy day, banking in a free throw, airballing a short hook shot, fumbling away at least a couple rebounds, and tripping over the microphone cord at the end of his press conference.
— Harden didn’t even attempt a free throw in Game 1. That will change in Game 2, which should be a VERY tightly officiated game to avoid injuries and/or fisticuffs. But the Warriors, to a man, explained that they refused to fall victim to Harden’s strategy: drive and tempt.
“He’s showing you the candy, showing you the ball and it’s easy to want to reach in,” said Shaun Livingston. “You’ve got to give credit to the coaching staff and then the discipline, starting with Klay and Andre.”
— It took a little longer to write this than I would’ve liked.
Trying to write a recap but I can’t stop watching this https://t.co/GSTk86hHUc
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) April 16, 2016