Warriors

Warriors don't want narrative surrounding Harden, Paul to change on their watch

Warriors don't want narrative surrounding Harden, Paul to change on their watch

OAKLAND -- As the Warriors prepare to face Houston in the Western Conference semifinals, the biggest unknown about these Rockets will come to the surface only if they face elimination.

That’s when all of Houston will turn its eyes toward leading MVP candidate James Harden and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, pleading for them to save the championship hopes.

Neither guard has a history of doing that, but that was when they were on different teams. This is their first year as teammates.

“Chris is the obvious difference in their team now,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday after practice. “They’ve been really good for the last few years, but he gives them a new dimension. He’s a great player, one of the best in the league and a future Hall of Famer. So we have to account for what he does.

“He’s different from James. They attack in different ways. But they’re both ball-dominant and very effective with what they do.”

Just because Harden and Paul haven’t crushed the title hopes of others doesn’t mean they can’t. That’s the mentality the Warriors are taking, and it’s the right one.

“Those two guards, there’s no stopping them by yourself,” Klay Thompson said. “They’re going to get their numbers. But you don’t want James and CP or James Harden to have a huge game because that usually indicates they’re going to win.”

Harden and Paul have played a combined 184 postseason games, and neither has ever gone into summer feeling the glow of triumph. Moreover, no two players of their elite status and experience have consistently felt more graceless dismissals.

Paul is in his 13th season and this is his first trip to the conference finals. Until Houston’s win over Utah on Monday, Paul’s 85 postseason games without reaching the final four were the most in the league.

The Clippers built around DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Paul. With Paul as the veteran leader, they had promise. The three All-Stars were together for five seasons and never once got past the second round.

Paul’s most recent elimination game was last spring, when the Clippers lost to Utah in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Paul shot 52.6 percent over the first six games, and then faded to 31.6 percent (6-of-19) in the Game 7 loss.

Yet the most startling dismissal of those Clippers came in 2015. They took a 3-1 series lead over Houston and then lost three straight, including Game 6 in LA after building a 19-point lead late in the third quarter.

It’s not that Paul’s postseason metrics are bad. It’s that he has not fared well when faced with elimination.

Harden has been considerably worse. He is both undeniably skilled and exceedingly vulnerable to shrinking from the big moment.

It was Harden, an MVP candidate last season, who submitted a zombie performance in his last elimination game. After averaging 29.1 points in the regular season, he scored 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting and committed six turnovers in Game 6 against the Spurs. Who can forget the sight of him sitting on the bench in the final minutes, holding a stare as vacant as an empty gym?

He was worse against the Warriors during the 2015 Western Conference Finals. The Warriors won in five games, and Harden’s Game 5 meltdown was flabbergasting. He had 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and 12 turnovers, an NBA record.

Again, this is not to say that Harden and Paul can’t summon greatness in the clutch but to acknowledge that they generally have not.

“If we play too lax and lazy with these guys,” Kevin Durant said, “they can burn you because they’re great one-on-one scorers.”

The most important factor for the Warriors will be disallowing either one to get into a rhythm -- especially Harden, who is as good as any offensive player in the league.

“You don’t want to foul him because he gets there the most of anybody in the NBA,” Thompson said. “But that’s easier said than done. Don’t give him too many passing lanes, because he’s also a great assist man. And just close his airspace because when he’s doing his thing with his dribble, he’s so hard to stop when he’s comfortable.”

What’s different is that Harden and Paul have not been teammates until this season. When the Rockets traded for Paul, a traditional point guard, there was legitimate reason to wonder if he could play alongside Harden, who tends to control the ball.

The Harden-Paul backcourt succeeded in the regular season, wildly so when they were sharing the court with center Clint Capela. The Rockets are 50-5 when all three are in the lineup.

The postseason is a different beast. There is no knowing how Harden and Paul will respond as teammates when faced with the prospect of elimination. The Warriors simply want to put them there.

In third quarter takeover, Curry lets weight of others worrying slide right off his back

In third quarter takeover, Curry lets weight of others worrying slide right off his back

OAKLAND -- Stephen Curry couldn’t help himself. He let his emotion tumble off his tongue and, well, clipped one of his angel wings.

Curry dropped an f-bomb Sunday that was heard by a few dozen of the 19,596 fans at Oracle Arena but deciphered by millions of TV-watching lip-readers around the globe.

So hyper-aware of it was Curry that had a ready response when asked about it after the Warriors laid a 126-85 beating on the Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

“I already know,” he said.

“I blacked out,” Curry explained, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “I blacked out.”

To his credit, there was no denial and no awkward attempt at damage control. He was busted and he knew it.

Keep in mind, now, Curry does charity work in his sleep. He raises a finger to give thanks after every basket. He pens bible verses on his sneakers. He makes an annual trip to a church in Oakland to personally donate goods to a community in need.

Yet there he was, late in the third quarter, single-handedly destroying the Rockets, getting carried away. After driving in for a finger roll that gave the Warriors a 24-point lead, Curry yanked out his mouthpiece with his left hand, while gesturing with his right hand and shouting words that will follow him forever.

“This is my f---ing house.”

He was, in the metaphorical sense, telling a precise truth. Curry is the most popular player the Warriors have ever had. He’s a two-time MVP who has been at the vanguard of basketball’s 3-point revolution. His 3-pointers have a way of crushing opponents and fortifying the blood of fans at Oracle.

Curry entered Game 3 being trailed by the nagging sounds of worry. There were questions about his left knee and whether it was fully healed from the Grade 2 MCL sprain sustained in March. There were concerns about his defense and whether expending so much energy on that end was siphoning his vigor on offense, where he struggled with his shot.

There was hope that, maybe, he could return to the cozy bosom of Oracle and prove that all was well.

After a mediocre first half -- sub-mediocre by his standard -- Curry came out in the third quarter and fried every defender who dared to get in front him. He scored 18 points in less than 10 minutes, making every shot he took: 7-of-7 overall, 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, 2-of-2 from the free throw line.

It was during this dazzling takeover that the weight of so many others worrying about him, asking him about his game, slid off his back.

And he wanted to let everybody know how good it felt.

“A lot of it was just talking to myself, almost like you've got to be your biggest fan sometimes,” he said. “No matter what questions I was being asked over the first two games or what the expectations were, I had the highest expectations for myself. And you've just got to...find whatever you want to get going.

“Obviously it felt good and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you're here, you're with them, get the crowd into it.”

Curry still pays a fine to his mother for his turnovers. It’s not substantial, but it adds up and, if Sonya Curry were so inclined to save it, could pay for a nice car.

Well, Mrs. Curry may fine her eldest son for this, too. Curry may volunteer penance. There is a price to be paid for Curry’s frat-boy moment.

There’s also, in some quarters, a sense of relief. Yes, Curry is back and teaching lessons on the court. But he’s also human, capable of the kind of momentary lapse that he’d like to rewind and erase.

Curry’s image has been scrubbed and rescrubbed by a thousand loofahs. It has been, for some, a little too clean. There is dirt on it now, all because he let his emotions off the leash for a moment.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Game 5 Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm

Red-hot third quarter pushes Warriors halfway to fourth straight NBA Finals

Red-hot third quarter pushes Warriors halfway to fourth straight NBA Finals

That moment. It comes out of nowhere.

While fans were still putting mustard on hot dogs coming out of halftime Sunday evening at Oracle Arena, the Golden State Warriors were busy dropping the hammer on the Houston Rockets.

Almost every team in the league has faced an offensive run by the Warriors. Once it starts, it’s one of the more difficult things to stop in the NBA.

Golden State took a modest 54-43 lead into halftime and then unleashed the fury on Houston coming out of he break. The Warriors hit the visitors with a 10-0 run to start the third and ran away from the Rockets for a 126-85 win.

Stephen Curry shook off early game shooting struggled to hit the Rockets with 18 points in the third. Curry hit all seven of his shots in the period, including a pair of 3-pointers and four free throws.

“Steph definitely got it going,” Draymond Green said following the win. “I think it was very important for him to get to the basket. Once he started getting to the basket, then all of the sudden the threes opened up and they started to fall."

With the Rockets chasing the two-time league MVP around the court, Kevin Durant added 10 of his 25 points in the quarter 4-of-6 shooting. Once the pair got hot, there was nothing the Rockets could do but try to limit the damage.

“We played soft, actually,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You can’t do that with these guys, these guys are good."

Houston tried to respond, cutting the Warriors lead to 21 heading to the fourth quarter, but the rout was on. Golden State outscored the Rockets 38-18 in the fourth to give them their largest margin of victory in team playoff history.

“The second half, we came out too slow, too slow, too soft,” James Harden said. “Offensively, we didn’t have any thrust and they exploited it."

Curry knocked down a pair of triples in the fourth to finish the evening with 35 points. After a rough couple of shooting games in the playoffs, the All-Star guard appeared to find his mojo.

“I have the highest expectations for myself and you just got to find whatever it is to get you going,” Curry said. “Obviously, it felt good and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you’re here, that you’re with them and get the crowd into it. But it’s just one game and you have to have that same type of energy and intensions and focus next game."

All five Warriors starters scored in double figures as they took a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. 

The two teams return to Oracle on Tuesday where Golden State will try to hold home-court advantage and move one step closer to a fourth straight NBA Finals.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Game 5 Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm