Warriors hold off Rockets to take 2-0 lead
Oakland, Calif. — James Harden had Game 2 on his fingertips — and then he didn't.
Now the Golden State Warriors have the Western Conference finals in their grasp.
Stephen Curry scored 33 points before Harden lost the ball in the closing seconds to end a spectacular duel between the NBA MVP and runner-up, and the Warriors held off the Houston Rockets 99-98 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
"Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat. These two guys are the two best basketball players in the world," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said.
Harden rallied the Rockets from 17 points down in the second quarter and had a chance to finish off the comeback in the fourth. Instead, Klay Thompson harassed him and Curry came over to trap Harden, who lost the ball as time expired.
Harden fell to the floor and put his hands over his head as the Warriors celebrated on the court, the sellout crowd of 19,596 roared, and golden-yellow confetti fell from the rafters.
"Kicking chairs," Harden said. "It's frustrating. It's frustrating to give the game away like that."
Harden had 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Dwight Howard overcame a sprained left knee that slowed him down to finish with 19 points and 17 rebounds for a Rockets team headed home in a major hole.
Game 3 is Saturday in Houston.
"We're not going to go anywhere," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We're just going to keep standing here and swinging."
Curry made five 3-pointers to go with six assists and three rebounds. He got a big boost from his teammates — notably Bogut, Draymond Green and Thompson — to regroup after the Warriors lost the big lead in the first half.
But the Warriors pulled ahead again late in the fourth quarter because of Curry — with his shot and his passes.
Curry connected on a 3-pointer, then found Bogut under the rim for a layup that sent the 7-footer flexing his muscles and shouting to the roaring, yellow-shirt wearing crowd. Bogut missed the ensuing free throw, but the Warriors led 96-89 with 2:25 left.
Harden kept finding ways to draw fouls and brought Houston back on free throws. The Rockets also forced the Warriors into an 8-second, backcourt violation before Harden found Howard for an alley-oop that sliced Golden State's lead to 99-98 with 33 seconds remaining.
Harrison Barnes missed a difficult reverse layup contested by Howard as the shot clock nearly expired. Harden got the ball down the court, and McHale elected not to call timeout because his team had the Warriors scrambling and outmanned.
"I will take our best player heading downhill on a broken court any day of the week. That's where he feasts," McHale said.
Harden was trapped by Thompson and Curry near the 3-point line and lost the ball. Time expired amid the scramble.
"You knew he probably wasn't going to pass," Curry said. "''At that point, it's just don't let him get a shot off and try to be the hero."
The Warriors bench ran onto the court in celebration. Harden lay on the floor until teammates helped him up.
That ended a back-and-forth contest — one that saw the Rockets rally the same way the Warriors did in Game 1, when they came back from a 16-point deficit in the second quarter.
"A little too drama-filled for us," Curry said.