After the Warriors jumped out to a 16-point lead in the second quarter, it didn’t seem feasible that they’d be forced to make one final stop at the end to win 99-98. But there was James Harden, with a head full of steam, 38 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists already under his belt, and the ball in his hands with a chance to steal Game 2.
He made shots from everywhere and got to the line frequently late in the game, so the end result was remarkable. He didn’t get a shot off. He was met by Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, and the result was a trap that’ll go down as one of the better defensive possessions in Warriors franchise history.
Here was my view (you can adjust it to HD quality if you click on the wheel icon on the bottom right of the video):
“They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack, and when I looked up I saw a red jersey and it was Dwight, so I tried to throw it back to him,” Harden said. “I’m thinking ‘five seconds on the clock,’ so I tried to get the ball back, and it was still two guys right there. I watched the film, it’s just a tough, tough play.”
You can see it in the video (or on TV, if you prefer closer looks from multiple angles). Harden stayed on the floor for a few seconds before a teammate helped him up, and on his way to the locker room he knocked down some curtains. Once in the locker room, he was “kicking chairs.”
The emotions seen from both sides were so disparate. Same with the way Game 1 and 2 looked, save for two huge second quarter comebacks. For that matter, this series couldn’t be more different from when these teams played during the regular season … except one minor detail. The Warriors keep beating the Rockets. Despite not playing “A+ basketball” in these first two games, they’ll take a 2-0 series lead to Houston.
“This is how the playoffs go,” said Steve Kerr. “I’ve never seen any team go through the playoffs just with ease. It’s hard. Playoff games are hard. We’re right where we need to be, won the two at home, and now we head to Houston. But every game is probably going to be like this.”
The Warriors didn’t have the same kind of success going small in this game, as both Dwight Howard (19 points and 17 rebounds) and Andrew Bogut (14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks) played significant roles.
Golden State was at its best when a totally different kind of lineup was in: the second unit.
Overall, despite Curry’s brilliant shooting night that resulted in 33 points and five more three-pointers (he’ll break Reggie Miller’s record for threes in an NBA Playoffs on Saturday during Game 3, and Curry has played far fewer games than it took Miller), this was an uneven offensive performance marked once again by too many turnovers. Perhaps the reserves hammered home once again what the Warriors need to do to keep getting better and achieve their ultimate goal.
“Our defense, when it’s good, we’re as good as it gets. Our offense, we go in and out sometimes,” said Andre Iguodala, who had the team riding high with a soaring tomahawk/windmill dunk early in the second quarter.
“Our second unit did a really good job of moving the ball and it’s hard to guard that ball movement and the way we had it going. The second unit, that’s what we’re there for.”
But the Rockets came back in the latter part of the second quarter. Harden helped account for 19 straight points (he scored 12 himself and had three assists), then Houston tied it with a lob from Terrence Jones to Howard with 11.4 seconds left in the half.
The game turned into a “street fight” in the second half, with the Warriors leading throughout the fourth quarter. The problem for Golden State was they never opened up the lead to more than eight points as the end drew near, and the Warriors came THIS close to letting Harden come back nearly by himself — even though the Warriors led 99-92 with 1:20 to go.
The MVP runner-up had an uncontested dunk, as the Warriors were worried about covering the three-point line. Then Harden went to the line for his ninth and tenth free throws of the night and made both. His lob pass to Howard with 33 seconds left brought the Rockets to within one, and it looked like the Warriors had no answer for Harden at all.
Houston trapped Curry whenever possible late in the game, including Golden State’s final possession, but the Warriors moved the ball fairly well that time. Harrison Barnes caught a pass from Iguodala in the corner, drove and missed a layup try (as you can see in the video above). It was a good look, and Draymond Green did all he could to get the rebound, but the Rockets ended up with a great situation. They had a timeout, but they also had the ball in their best player’s hands, with two Golden State defenders seemingly out of the play.
A lot will be made of the battle between Harden and Curry, and those two were outstanding. But this game really did come down to one play, and TEAM defense. And that’s what has brought the Warriors to this point, two wins away from an NBA Finals berth.
“There’s a lot else going on. I don’t know if you see it, but we were locked in. Especially that last possession. We missed a shot, we had a good look at the basket. Any other time, guys would’ve stopped playing and the team comes down and score. But we had five guys haul ass back. We got a good defensive possession and we got a stop,” said Iguodala, who made a reference to chess when I asked him about his game plan when he’s defending Harden one-on-one. He was later asked if the last play also reminded him of chess.
“Yeah, it actually does. Because if you look at a lot of possessions late in the game, (if) it’s a one-possession game, a team (that has) a timeout and pushes it and doesn’t call a timeout — a lot of times the defense will relax. And you’ll sneak up and you’ll get a shot or somebody will get a good luck, or at least you’ll get an attempt.
“But the way we got back in transition, that’s probably one of our best transition defensive stops we’ve had all year. Usually a guy always lags … but Klay got back, Steph got back, I was back, Draymond was hauling back and HB got back late in the play and we were able to get the stop.”
One of our best transition defensive stops we’ve had all year. High praise for a single play, considering how well this team has defended throughout the entire season. But that’s what it took to stop a superstar who was on top of his game, had possession of the ball and everything in his favor with the game in the balance.
— The following shot was actually reviewed and called a two instead of a three. Either way, there’s no sound combination in sports that’s quite like Oracle when the crowd gets silent and then explodes when Curry steps back and launches a jumper.
— The Warriors had a rough time dealing with Harden, but Golden State’s bench was key to them staying in front. Other than 12 points from Jones, Houston got nothing from its reserves.
“Andre Iguodala had a fantastic game, (Leandro) Barbosa gave us good minutes, and it was really fun to see that second group come in and play the way we needed to play and just move the ball and just make the simple play,” said Kerr.
Festus Ezeli (six rebounds in 12 minutes) and Shaun Livingston (4-for-4 from the field and four rebounds in 14 minutes) weren’t bad, either.
— The charging call on Curry, when Corey Brewer clearly snuck under Curry while he was in the air, was beyond ridiculous. I thought the NBA was trying to eradicate that kind of dangerous “defense,” but officials love to call offensive fouls.
— Celebrity sightings!
Before the game:
Draymond Green smiled when he saw Barry Bonds, who yelled, “Defense! Defense! Defense!” pic.twitter.com/wgfiEfLroY
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) May 22, 2015
After the game:
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) May 22, 2015
— No Riley Curry appearance at the MVP’s podium session (Skip Bayless, Brian Windhorst and Colin Cowherd can breathe easy). Instead it was a giant, bearded, cranky Australian center who sat next to the Warriors point guard and answered questions. I did see little Riley outside the Warriors locker room — she was much quieter than two nights earlier, sitting peacefully in the arms of her grandfather, Dell.