The Golden State Warriors did something on Saturday afternoon that is even more impressive than winning the most regular-season games in NBA history.
Stephen Curry scored 24 points in limited action and the Warriors limited James Harden to zero free-throw attempts in a 104-78 romp over the Houston Rockets in their playoff opener at Oracle Arena. Harden led the league the last two seasons by averaging 10.2 free-throw attempts per game.
“I thought our defense was excellent,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “We didn’t reach. We made them earn every point. We did have a brief spell when Steph went out where we sort of lost our focus, lost our poise a little bit. But we quickly recovered and lot of guys played very well. That was a good solid victory.”
Harden scored just 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The last time the bearded one did not go to the charity stripe was Jan. 12, 2015. The last time Harden didn’t go to the free-throw line in the playoffs was June 12, 2012. Harden gave a simple “no comment” when he was asked if he was frustrated about the officiating.
“They are selling out to stop him from driving,” Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They do a good job. Their four-man just flood the paint on his penetration. They put two and three guys on him.”
Houston shot 35.7 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range. The Rockets committed 24 turnovers, which turned into 33 points for the Warriors. It was their second-lowest scoring output of the season.
The only thing that put a damper on the victory was Curry injuring his ankle with about two minutes left in the first half. After missing a jumper, Curry turned his right ankle when he pushed off to head back on defense, Curry had a noticeable limp, but stayed in the game and came up with a steal off Harden that resulted in a layup for Andre Iguodala. Curry left the game moments later.
Curry returned to start the second half, but left the game for good less than three minutes later. Even had the Rockets made a run, Kerr would have kept Curry on the bench.
“I didn’t like the way he was moving when he went back out for the third quarter,” Kerr said. “He wanted to stay in, but he wasn’t moving well. So we weren’t going to play him regardless of what happened.”
Curry torched the Rockets before the injury by shooting 8-of-13 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. The likely back-to-back MVP outscored Houston 16-15 in the first quarter. The Warriors led 33-15 after the opening frame. The Rockets did not score their 33rd point of the game until there were 63 seconds left in the first half.
Houston briefly took advantage of Curry’s absence. When Curry left the game early in the second half, the score was 65-39. The Rockets cut the deficit to 73-58 on Trevor Ariza’s 3-pointer with 2:38 left. But the Warriors recovered to outscore Houston 9-2 the rest of the quarter and entered the fourth quarter with an 82-60 lead. The rest was all she wrote.
The Warriors won despite shooting just 42.9 percent from the field. Klay Thompson scored 16 points. Draymond Green had 12 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and four blocks. Iguodala had a team-high seven assists. The bench added 43 points.
The only other double-digit scorer for Houston was Dwight Howard with 14 points. Howard added 11 rebounds. Ariza had nine points, eight rebounds and four steals. Harden finished with a team-worst –27. The Rockets’ starters scored just two more points than the Warriors reserves.
The game got chippy early and late. Curry and Patrick Beverley picked up double technicals in the first quarter. Beverley was called for a foul after Curry got a steal off a bad pass by Howard. Beverley tried to get under Curry’s skin by continue to hound him even after the foul was called. Curry took offense and sholved Beverley away. Both teams intervened and nothing further happened.
“I went for a steal,” Beverley said. “It’s part of the game. I went for a steal and got tangled up.”
“It was a little back and forth and got tangled up,” Curry said. “Felt like it was a little too much, so protected myself and moved on.”
Both Green and Kerr understand that Beverley is a physical defender and that is the strength of his game. It’s also playoff basketball.
“I haven’t seen the replay so I don’t really know what happened,” Kerr said. “But that’s to be expected. It’s playoffs. Both guys are competitive. Beverley is a good defender and that’s what he does. He tries to get under your skin and he’s just doing his job.”
“That’s how he made his way in this league,” Green said. “You have to have respect for a guy who’s got his contract, but still plays the exact same way. So I have a respect for a guy that stays true to who he is. He knows who he is and doesn’t detour away from that.”
Green picked up a technical himself late in the fourth quarter when the referees determined that he had accelerated Donatas Motjejunas’s fall to the ground with a push after a foul was called. It appeared Motiejunas just lost his balance and Green was getting out of the way.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Although Curry is listed as questionable, he expects to play.
“Don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out,” Curry said. “Obviously if it’s not right and at risk of further injury, that’s the only thing that we have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can do on the floor. But we don’t want anything more serious to happen.”