OAKLAND, California Golden State rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to beat Houston 110-106 in the opening game of their NBA Western Conference finals series on Tuesday, with Stephen Curry hitting two free throws in the final seconds to seal the result and push his personal total to 34 points.
The Warriors turned the game around by going for a smaller, more nimble lineup and closed the first half on a run of 21 points to 4 to take a three-point lead at halftime.
The hosts then held off Houston in the fourth quarter, with the Rockets’ capacity to use their size advantage diminished by the loss of center Dwight Howard to a knee injury.
“It really stretches people out,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his lineup full of shooters. “Houston does the same thing. It was an interesting chess match, because they like to go small and we like to go small.”
James Harden, the runner-up to Curry in the MVP voting, nearly brought the Rockets back in the fourth quarter. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals, but his late push fell short.
“You can’t give a really good shooting team easy layups and confidence,” said Harden, who shot 11 of 20 from the field. “That’s what we did in the second quarter.”
Game 2 is Thursday in Oakland, and it’s unclear if Howard can play. Howard doesn’t think the injury will sideline him for the series.
“Hopefully Dwight is healthy and we can play big,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We didn’t have that option with Dwight out.”
Harden mixed in a series of step-back jumpers and driving layups to help Houston even the score at 95-95 midway through the fourth.
But the Warriors shut down Houston for long stretches, and Curry kept hitting shots to match Harden’s brilliance. Curry connected on a 3-pointer and converted a layup to put Golden State up 108-97 with 2:01 remaining.
“It’s entertaining basketball. We’re both supposed to help our team win and do what we can to impact the game,” said Curry.
The Rockets never relented, though, with Trevor Ariza making a 3-pointer that trimmed the Warriors’ lead to 108-106 with 14.6 seconds to play.
Curry twice caught the inbounds pass, and the Rockets were forced to foul him both times. He hit both free throws to seal Golden State’s win.
Curry added six rebounds and five assists, and Draymond Green had 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to boost the Warriors when they needed it most.