OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors continued their dominance of the Houston Rockets this season with a 110-106 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday.
After sweeping Houston in the regular season, Stephen Curry and the Warriors this time in the playoffs had to survive at home against the Rockets after trailing by as many as 16 points in the second quarter.
Curry scored a game-high 34 points, hitting six 3-pointers to get the better of MVP runner-up James Harden, who took the game over at times and finished with 28 points.
The Warriors had the last laugh after Harden tied the score at 97 with 5:11 left as they proceeded to go on an 11-0 run. Harrison Barnes had back-to-back dunks off an inbound pass and putback. Then Curry found himself open for a layup under the basket and hit a 3-pointer.
Houston responded with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to two, but Curry calmly sank two free throws with 11.8 seconds left to seal the win in the Warriors’ first conference finals game in 39 years.
“I think it’s just the Western Conference finals, they’re getting better and better,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said of the Rockets.
For Houston, it wasn’t nearly enough. Curry was 6 for 11 from 3-point range, fending off the Rockets’ challenges again and again.
Shaun Livingston added 18 points off the bench, and Draymond Green collected 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Harden poured in 21 of his points in the second half and finished with 11 rebounds and nine assists. He found room to work with while Dwight Howard missed much of the second half due to a knee bruise and was held to seven points and 13 rebounds.
But the Warriors turned the game when they halted the momentum of the Rockets, who had entered the game on the heels of coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win their Western Conference semifinals series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Warriors trailed by as many as 16 points in the second quarter before issuing a heavy-handed response to the Rockets.
Closing the first half on a 25-6 run, the Warriors erased the deficit and took a 58-55 halftime lead. Curry hit a step-back jumper at the buzzer to send them into the locker room with all the momentum.
That shot was actually the only one from Curry during the run, which was keyed by a switch the Warriors made on defense and contributions from the bench.
Green drew the assignment at center and bothered Howard after Andrew Bogut had picked up three fouls in seven minutes of action.
Livingston scored 16 points in the first half, including eight of the Warriors’ points on a 10-0 run to cut the lead.
“You can’t give a really good shooting team easy layups, confidence, and that’s what we did in the second quarter,” Harden said.
The crowd noise at Oracle Arena was deafening as Green then drew an offensive foul on Howard and scored on a tip-in at the other end. Howard would commit five first-half turnovers.
“They struggled a bit with the small lineup when they were big with Dwight, and that’s what kind of changed the game for us,” Green said.
After Thompson tied the score at 53 with a layup, the tidal wave continued as Barnes put the Warriors ahead with a 3-pointer.
“I’m proud of the way we stuck with it, and we became the aggressor in the second quarter,” Curry said.
It was the Rockets who had gotten off to a hot start. They led 31-24 after the first quarter and successfully scored in transition on the Warriors. Josh Smith hit a 3-pointer and had a dunk in transition before Corey Brewer scored on a fast-break layup to cap a 9-0 run that gave the Rockets a 49-33 lead.
Howard didn’t look the same after colliding with Smith in the first quarter. He limped around and briefly went back to the locker room, but the Warriors could not take advantage of his absence while the Rockets went on an 11-2 run.
Houston had led 9-2 before Thompson scored seven straight points to tie the score and hit his only 3-pointer of the game. Curry’s jumper put the Warriors ahead for the first time, and then he hit a 3-pointer while Howard and Smith were collecting themselves after the collision.