The Golden State Warriors did what many thought improbable, if not impossible, defeating the Rockets 118-113, Friday night, in Houston. With the win, the Warriors take the series 4-2 and will now move on to the Western Conference Finals, for a fifth consecutive season.
Playing without All-Star Kevin Durant, who has carried the team throughout these playoffs, the Warriors needed to return to their postseason motto of "Strength in Numbers." Not only did the Dubs need an MVP-caliber performance from Stephen Curry, they would require an All-Star "three and D" effort of Klay Thompson, as well as all-around contributions from Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. All of these needs had to be met, should Golden State hope to have a chance in Friday's Game 6.
Early on, the Dubs were getting the key performances they were looking for, save for one: Steph was coming up empty on all his shot attempts and generally looked out of whack. In fact, in what amounted to an incredibly disappointing first half performance from the two-time NBA MVP, Curry accrued two quick first quarter fouls, sending him to an early benching about halfway through the period. Not only that, Steph was actually shut-out in entirely from scoring in the first half. Even though their star was struggling mightily, fighting through constant double-teams and trap-attempts, Golden State managed to ride strong efforts from Thompson, Green, Iguodala, and key-reserve Kevon Looney to a 57-57 tie, by halftime.
One couldn't help but feel that if Curry couldn't get it going in the second half, then the Warriors wouldn't stand a chance of upsetting the Rockets on their home floor, facing elimination. With the opportunity to handle business on the road and put away the ascending Rockets, the Warriors star would rise to the occasion, delivering an MVP-caliber night.
Steph gave the Warrior faithful something to believe in, putting up 10 points in the third, while Houston went up by five points, following a quarter in which they outscored the Dubs 30-25. Curry entered the game earlier than usual in the fourth and got to work immediately. Within the span of less than a minute, Steph knocked down a mid-range jumper and a 27-foot three-pointer, keeping his team within striking distance of James Harden and the Rockets.
With 6:31 remaining in regulation, Curry poured-in a 10-footer to tie the game at 97-all. This was the pivotal moment, the moment where Golden State switched into kill-mode. Looney's layup with 3:42 left would put the Warriors up, and they would never again surrender the lead. Steph nailed a couple of huge threes, answered by three-pointers by Harden and Chris Paul. Klay knocked down a huge shot from behind the arc, with 36.1 seconds to go, putting the Dubs up by six (110-104). The last few possessions were highlighted by clutch Rocket threes, scored by Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Austin Rivers, which extended the game. Each time Golden State possessed the ball, Curry was sent to the line, sinking each of his eight free-throws and effectively driving the final nails into the Houston Rockets' coffin.
Curry finished with 33 points (all scored in the second half), a truly remarkable performance. Thompson also brought his "A" game, adding 27 points of his own. Iguodala and Green stepped-up, scoring 17 and eight points, respectively. Green also added 10 rebounds and seven assists. For the bench, two individuals stood out from the rest: Looney and Shaun Livingston. Kevon chipped-in with 14 points and five rebounds, while Livingston scored an efficient 11.
Now that the Warriors have gotten past their Western Conference-rival Rockets, they await the winner of Saturday's winner-take-all Game 7, between the Denver Nuggets and visiting Portland Trail Blazers. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is scheduled to tip-off on Tuesday in Oakland.