The NBA Western conference final series lives on for at least two more days as the Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors 128-115 thanks to a huge night by James Harden, and embarrassing start by the team now leading the series 3-1 and maybe a bit of Stephen Curry suffering from a case of bad landings.
With the series still not close, as no team has ever come back from being down 3-0, most attention went to Curry, who flew over Trevor Ariza when the Rockets’ forward tried shaking him off with a pump fake. Curry landed badly on his neck and went to the locker room. He later returned, but overall he was having an off day. In any case, he didn’t have a concussion according to pretty much everyone, and there doesn’t seem to be any damage beyond being a little bit shaken up.
Harden thrived in the vacuum as this game needed a star, scoring a career playoff high of 45 points. He had 17 points in the final quarter, constantly hitting shots when the Warriors were making threats of a comeback, like his 3-point following an Andre Iguodala dunk that made it an 8-point game. Harden shot 13-of-22 from the field and 7-of-11 from beyond the arc, getting to the line 13 times and making 12 shots.
The Warriors tried the hack-a-someone tactic to get back in the game. It sent Josh Smith to the line 12 times (making just 3 shots) but Smith did end up scoring 20, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in a very different experience for him compared to the rest of this series. Dwight Howard was 2-of-7 from the line, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. His elbow to the face of Andrew Bogut was called a flagrant 1, but that might be reviewed by the league and turned into a flagrant 2, which means he’ll miss game 5.
I hope not, but there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s never my intention to hurt anybody on the floor. My reaction was to try to get him off me, but I can’t react that way.
Those who love conspiracy theories, this time suggesting the league didn’t want the WCF to end this soon and helped out the Rockets with some calls, will point out Howard getting away with a blatant elbow to the face, and also to Draymond Green fouling out, with a couple of those fouls being far less than borderline. However, with the Warriors fouling so much in short stretches, officials, just like players, fall out of rhythm and their decision making becomes impaired.
If these weren’t the Warriors, a team so deep inside the Rockets’ head, this would have been over after the first quarter. The Rockets led by 23 points (45-22) at the end of the first, started the game with a 12-0 run and seemed to get open shots with ease. Maybe it was just one of those days, but perhaps the Warriors got a bit complacent after such an easy win in game 3.
Now, back to the Oracle Arena, with or without Dwight Howard, probably with Stephen Curry. The Rockets have done well without Howard this season but in this situation, it’s obviously better to have him. Furthermore, it’ll be interesting to see if they can actually get a nice start on the road in the toughest road venue in the league. Staying ahead right from the start was what Kevin McHale thought made the difference, for the first time in his team’s favor.