Andrew Bogut

Biggie Smalls: Curry scores 34, Warriors win exciting Game 1

It’s rare that heavily-discussed individual matchups live up to the hype. A certain recent prize fight comes to mind, although in that case everyone should’ve known better. Stephen Curry and James Harden don’t guard each other, but the two MVP candidates put on a great show in a game where the Rockets dominated early and the Warriors fended off the No. 2 seed with a furious, electric, stingy lineup featuring Draymond Green at center.

Harden scored 21 points of his 28 points in the second half. Curry scored 21 points of his 34 points in the second half. But much like the MVP race, Curry got more from his teammates to complement his brilliant outing, and the Warriors edged Harden’s squad 110-106 in Game 1.

Harden got some help from Trevor Ariza’s 20 points, as Ariza and the rest of the Rockets found it extremely easy to score in the first quarter. That continued to start the second, as the Rockets built a big lead and Oracle Arena nervously fidgeted in their chairs as one.

Then the Warriors went small …

The lineup changed, and then everything changed. With 6:29 left in the first half, Steve Kerr replaced Festus Ezeli with Harrison Barnes. That put Green — who seemed to be everywhere at once in this game — on Dwight Howard, and over the next 4:36 the Warriors turned a 14-point deficit into a tie score. The Warriors took a one-point lead on a Barnes three with a minute left. Then Curry capped a foundation-shaking comeback with a gorgeous dribbling display, capped by a long, high-arcing jumper to give Golden State a 58-55 halftime lead.

Throughout the season, Houston — led by GM Daryl Morey — made Harden’s MVP case by highlighting his lack of support. We saw that play out in this game, as Josh Smith rolled into Howard’s knee in the first quarter. Howard gave it a go, but besides strong rebounding numbers he was terrible (two points, no blocks and three turnovers in the second and third quarters combined), and he only played 51 seconds in the fourth quarter.

Harden vs. Thompson

Harden seemed not to mind when the Warriors went small, as he probed the Warriors defense while doing his best to draw fouls. He only shot six free throws in the game, and just two in the fourth quarter.

“I thought that we were … attacking them enough that we were going to get to the line more,” said Kevin McHale. “There’s a lot of holding and grabbing out there. We’ve just got to play through it.”

Harden also hit some incredible contested jumpers over Klay Thompson, who did his best to stay with the clever shooting guard. Based on how Thompson played offensively in the second half (1-for-7, two turnovers, lots of Klayups) compared to a pretty solid showing in the first two quarters (5-for-11, three assists, no turnovers), it looked like he was wiped out by his difficult assignment. He wouldn’t blame fatigue when I brought up that possibility after the game, however.

“It’s tiring, but it’s what we train for. It’s why we stay in great shape in the offseason, just so we can handle big tests like that,” he said.

I also asked him to assess his defensive performance, in light of all the tough shots Harden made.

“Yeah, I could do better, though. In the beginning, I thought I played well on him. He’s runner-up MVP for a reason. I watched the film. It was fun guarding him. But I thought I did a decent job.”

Warriors are Livingston well

The leading scorer for a good chunk of this game (before Harden and Curry started really going off in the second half) was none other than Shaun Livingston. It seemed like Livingston drank the blood of Mo Speights (like a human drinking vampire blood in “True Blood”) and brought the kind of offensive punch we haven’t really seen out of their long-limbed reserve point guard all season: 18 points (6-of-8, 6-for-6 from the line), seven rebounds and three assists.

“Credit Shaun for coming in and saving the day, keeping us afloat when everybody else was struggling,” said Green.

Dub Steps

— I can’t believe the Rockets let Jason Terry guard Curry without help as often as they did. He can’t keep up with Curry or fight through screens, so I’d expect McHale to limit his team’s exposure to that matchup in Game 2.

— “I think we finally realized it was the Western Conference Finals,” Kerr said, when asked what changed defensively after the first quarter. “Honestly, sometimes with Game 1 in a series, there’s kind of a feeling-out process. Houston was not in that proces, and we were. They were coming off Game 7 on a high. They came out really as the aggressor, and I thought we took a quarter-and-a-half to really dig in defensively. From that point on, we were much better, but that first quarter they were scoring at will in the paint. We just weren’t aggressive enough.”

— David Lee, Leandro Barbosa and Festus Ezeli all had their problems in the first half. Kerr went back to Ezeli and Barbosa in the second half, and both moves paid dividends. Lee only played four minutes early and didn’t return. After Lee was taken out, Ron Adams spoke with him during a timeout … Adams looked quite animated.

Barnes’ put-back off Curry’s missed reverse layup attempt to give the Warriors a 101-97 lead was simply amazing from my angle (behind the opposite basket). He started this game slowly, then hit several key shots (like his three to put the Warriors up 93-89) and played great defense as this game went along. His playoff resume continues to grow.

— Howard looked very glum in the locker room.

I can’t climb into Howard’s body, so I have no idea how badly he’s hurting or what he could or couldn’t do. But he’s going to hear it from a lot of people if he misses time due to an injury that includes no structural damage.

— Huge play during the small-ball comeback in the second quarter: Green (who did an excellent job against Howard) was guarding the Rockets center, and Thompson came over with a great trap and steal. Thompson threw out ahead to Livingston for a transition dunk. It seemed like that was when the crowd realized it was the Western Conference Finals, too.

— “It was fun. It’s always fun guarding those bigger guys,” said Green.

— I doubt you’ll hear Warriors fans chant “OVERRATED” at Harden anytime soon.

— After going 6-for-11 tonight, Curry is 20-for-37 on threes in his last three games.

— Even with Curry leading his team to victory, the star of the night was his partner at the podium after the game. His two-year-old daughter Riley told Steph to “be quiet,” and was a little ham throughout her time on camera. She got tired of the Q&A about two-thirds of the way through the press conference, and took off on a search for her mom.

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