Warriors ride classic Third Quarter Surge to Win in Game Seven, Advance to NBA Finals
After an explosive performance from Klay Thompson carried the Warriors to a huge win in Game Six, the Golden State Warriors (11-5) flew to Texas to take on the Houston Rockets (11-5) in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors were trying to punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, and a fourth consecutive matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who punched their ticket on Sunday. The Warriors would have to win without Andre Iguodala, who was missing his fourth-straight game with a bone bruise, and Houston would have to win without Chris Paul, who was missing his second-straight game with a hamstring strain. The Warriors went on to win the game 101-92, and advance to the NBA Finals.
The first quarter got going with the Warriors picking up three fouls in the first minute of the game. Kevon Looney made the first foul, and Klay proceeded to pick up two in the following 45 seconds. That allowed the Rockets to jump out to a quick four-point lead, but the Warriors answered back with solid offense that saw Kevin Durant get to the line, Klay Thompson get a reverse layup off of a back cut, and Stephen Curry nailing a three off of a Rockets turnover. The Rockets were not going away through, as they stormed right back after Klay Thompson picked up his third foul, on a James Harden three, which he made. Harden made two threes in the first half of the quarter. Eric Gordon then had a quick burst for the Rockets, nailing a three and throwing a lob to Clint Capela. The first timeout of the quarter came with 6:30 left in the first, and the Rockets leading the Warriors 15-9 with Durant free throws happening right after the timeout. Kevin Durant missed both free throws, as he has struggled from the line in the last couple of games. Luckily for the Warriors, who were playing disastrously on defense, the Rockets were ice cold. The ROckets scored only three points between timeouts, on a PJ Tucker corner three, but the Rockets were getting a lot of offensive rebounds. The Warriors were able to cut into the lead thanks to a mid range jumper from Shaun Livingston and a deep three from Kevin Durant, which forced a timeout from Mike D’Antoni with 4:03 left in the quarter and the Rockets leading 18-14. Draymond Green threw down a dunk in transition right after the timeout. The following minutes saw Kevin Durant get to the line again, and only go 1/2, while James Harden got a layup to fall before going to the line on a foul from Jordan Bell. Steve Kerr called timeout in between his free throws and the Rockets led 23-17 with 1:30 left in the quarter. Harden made both his free throws and the Warriors answered back with two points off of a Dunk from Kevon Looney. No one else scored in the final minute of the quarter, and the Rockets had a five-point lead. James Harden was on fire early, going 4/6 with 14 points, and he was the game’s leading scorer. Kevin Durant had eight points to lead the Warriors. As a team, the Warriors shot 35% from the floor and 20% (2/10) from three, while the Rockets were shooting 31.8% from the floor and 36.4% (4/11) from three. After the first quarter, the Rockets led the Warriors 24-19.
The Rockets came out with their guns blazing in the second quarter, and went on a 10-4 run to grab a double-digit lead. They were just outworking the Warriors early, and were doing a good job on the offensive glass, getting an incredible amount of second-chance opportunities. Eric Gordon was still able to get to the rim with relative ease, and Clint Capela caught another alley-oop, which was the play that forced Steve Kerr to call his first timeout of the quarter. The Warriors did manage to score twice, once on a layup from Klay Thompson and once more on another layup from Klay. With 8:37 left in the half, the Rockets led the Warriors 34-23. After the timeout, the Warriors were still unable to stop the Rockets surge on offense. Clint Capela caught another lob from James Harden, and screamed like he actually did anything in the prior six games (he didn’t). Gerald Green hit a deep three and Eric Gordon hit a deeper three immediately after. The Warriors were answering back though, as Klay and KD both hit threes, and were picking up the pace, looking to get Houston tired just like they did in Game Six. When a timeout was called with 5:20 left in the half, the Rockets led the Warriors 44-33. After that time out, the Rockets went on a 4-0 run that saw James Harden throw down a big dunk in transition. During that run, Klay Thompson got to the line, and promptly missed both free throws. The Rockets managed to get an extra possession while grabbing their 11th offensive rebound of the half, and the Warriors were playing embarrassingly badly. With 4:32 left in the half, the Rockets led 48-33. Stephen Curry nailed a jumper after the timeout, and Klay followed that up with a corner three in transition. The Rockets were still doing their thing though, as Clint Capela threw down another dunk and Eric Gordon got a coast-to-coast layup to fall as the buzzer sounded at the half to extend the lead to 11 points. James Harden disappeared in the last few minutes of the half, but his teammates were able to shoulder the load. The Warriors were playing horrifically, playing terrible defense, not grabbing rebounds, and taking bad shots. They should have been down by at least 20 points, but were only down 11. James Harden led all scorers with 16 points, while Eric Gordon and Clint Capela both had 14 behind him to help lead the Rockets. The Warriors were led by Kevin Durant with 13 points, and Klay Thompson with 12. As a team, the Warriors were shooting 43.6% from the field and 28.6% (6/21) from three, while the Rockets were shooting 42% from the field and 26.1% (6/23) from three. Stephen Curry was off to a slow start (eight points on 3/10 shooting, which was hurting the Warriors, but not as much as the poor defense. As a team, the Warriors had 10 turnovers, and they only forced six from the Rockets. The Warriors were still just one run away from grabbing a lead, and they would look to do so in the third quarter. At halftime, the Rockets led the Warriors 54-43.
The third quarter opened with a 10-4 run for the Warriors. The Warriors were able to get their points in all ways except free throws. Draymond Green got a layup to fall, Kevon Looney got a layup to fall, while Nick Young and Kevin Durant each made a three. The Warriors still didn't quite look like themselves, but the Rockets looked tired and were missing open shots. Kevon Looney got to the line for the Warriors, but missed both free throws, making the Warriors just 3/10 from the free throw line, in a Game Seven. The Rockets called timeout with 7:20 left in the quarter and the lead at just five points. The next couple minutes were not pretty, and neither team played well, but the Warriors cut the lead to three points. Draymond Green got a cutting layup to fall, and Stephen Curry got a corner three to splash following a nice (moving) screen from Jordan Bell. The Rockets were getting good looks on offense, but looked tired and slow, which led to them missing most of those open looks. With 4:34 left in the third quarter, the Rockets led the Warriors 61-58. After the timeout, the Warriors tied the game on a three from Kevin Durant, and then took the lead on a Stephen Curry corner three. James Harden then got two free throws to fall before Stephen Curry finished on an impressive layup, which happened before Steph got a three to drop over Ryan Anderson. On the next possession, Steph hit a heat-check three in transition and it looked like the Warriors were back. The Warriors then got a couple more points on shots from Kevin Durant, and their lead was at seven points. Kevin Durant took over as the game’s leading scorer with 23 points (10 of which came in the third quarter), and Stephen Curry was right behind him with 20 (12 of which came in the third). James Harden was still leading the Rockets with 22 points, but he was not getting much help from anyone not named Eric. The most impressive part of the comeback for the Warriors was that Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were on the bench for the last several minutes, so they were fresh for the fourth. As a team, the Warriors were shooting 47.5% from the floor and 39.4% (13/33) from three, while the Rockets were shooting 36% from the floor and 16.2% (6/37) from three. After outscoring the Rockets 33 to 15 in the third quarter, the Warriors led the Rockets 76-69.
Klay Thompson started off the fourth quarter with a made jumper from just inside the three-point line. The Warriors continued to explode, just like they did to close the third quarter. Stephen Curry got a floater to fall off the glass, which he flexed after, and then Klay Thompson nailed a three in transition following a nice steal from Stephen Curry. The Rockets were ice-cold, and kept missing open shots, in fact, they had missed their last 25 attempts from three. It looked like the Warriors were ready to step on their throats to punch their ticket to the finals. The first timeout of the quarter was called with 8:27 left in the game and the Warriors lead at 10 points. Clint Capela got a hook shot to fall after an offensive rebound out of the timeout, but then Kevin Durant nailed a 30-foot three. Stephen Curry then nailed a step-back three over Clint Capela on the next possession. PJ Tucker then hit a three, breaking an 0/27 streak from beyond the arc for the Rockets. More impressive than the made three though, is what happened after, as PJ Tucker stared down the Warriors bench as if he put the final nail in their coffin, even though his three cut their lead to 10 points. Steve Kerr then called a timeout for the Warriors with 6:07 left in the game, and the Warriors leading 89-79. After that timeout, the Rockets got two layups to fall to cut the lead to six points, but KD then nailed a midrange jumper before Klay made a deep two, as his foot was on the line on what looked like a perfect three from the corner, which got the lead to 10 points once again. Kevin Durant then made two more shots to help keep the Warriors going. The Rockets called timeout with 3:15 left in the game and the Warriors leading 97-85. The teams then went on to trade baskets for the last couple of minutes, but the Warriors were still able to maintain a healthy lead, and won the game 101-92.
Kevin Durant woke up down the stretch and came up huge for the Warriors. He finished with 34 points, and after a rough couple of games, it felt like he was back to his Finals MVP form from last year. He had 34 points on 11/21 shooting, while grabbing five rebounds, dishing out five assists, blocking three shots, and getting one steal. Stephen Curry exploded in the second half, as he tends to do, and had 27 points on 10/22 shooting, with 10 assists, nine rebounds, four steals, and a block. Klay Thompson made some huge shots down the stretch en route to 19 points on 8/13 shooting, and Draymond Green added 10 points of his own, along with 13 rebounds. The Warriors finished the game shooting 48.8% from the floor, and 41% (16/39) from three. While the Warriors really made me nervous in the first half, they did what they did all season, and used an incredible third quarter to propel them to a win.
James Harden had a big first half for the Rockets, but faltered down the stretch, as his whole team did. He finished with 32 points on 12/29 shooting, which included 2/13 shooting from beyond the arc. Eric Gordon finished with 23 points on 9/22 shooting, and 2/12 from three. Clint Capela had a huge game with 20 points and nine rebounds. PJ Tucker had 14 points on 5/9 shooting, and no other Rocket had more than three points. Gerald Green was the only other Rocket to score, and he had only three points. As a team, the Rockets finished the game shooting 40% from the floor, and JUST 15.9% (7/44) from three. Trevor Ariza was horrible on offense, and had ZERO points on 0/12 shooting, and nine of those shots were from beyond the arc. The Rockets were horrendous from three all game, and it looked like they just ran out of gas in the second half, which appeared to be the game plan for the Warriors in both games Six and Seven. The Rockets had a stretch in which they missed a record 27-straight three point shots, which was just bad. The bottom line for the Rockets is that when you live and die by the three, you are going to have games in which you are simply ice-cold, and that is what happened tonight.
The ice-cold shooting is what cost the Rockets a win in this game and a ticket to the NBA finals, despite what people will say about the poor officiating in tonight’s game. Yes, the officiating in the game was absolutely atrocious. The Rockets got a good whistle early in the game, but the Warriors got a better whistle for the second half. There were several huge calls that were missed in both directions, though more were missed in favor of Golden State. The bottom line though is that poor officiating did not make Houston miss 27-straight threes and go 7/44 from three.
I’ll give the Houston Rockets credit, they have earned it. I thought that the Warriors would take this series in no more than five games, but the Rockets never gave up, and played incredibly tough. They lost this series fro a myriad of reasons. Chris Paul got hurt, but he has had hamstring issues for his whole career, so that is the risk you take when you bring him into your team. That is not the only reason that caused them to lose the series, as you could still expect the Warriors to explode in Game Six, and anything could have happened in Game Seven. The Rockets lost this series because of the short rotations of Mike D’Antoni which led to fatigue late in the series, when the games were most important. That is why the Warriors attack in the third quarter was so effective in this series. The Warriors finished the series with a +68 point differential in the third quarters, which was the real difference in the series. Chris Paul had huge games and was perhaps the sole reason that the Rockets won games Four and Five, so he is slander-free in my book, as he made the most of his time on the court in his first Western Conference Finals.
With this win, the Golden State Warriors punched their ticket to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, and their fourth consecutive matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The NBA Finals begin on Thursday, May 31, in Oakland at 6 p.m. on ABC.