Everyone wants to win in a blowout, and it was certainly alarming to see them trail at home by 16 before the second quarter was even halfway though, but Golden State’s 110-106 Game 1 victory was as satisfying as wins come, in that they faced an opponent playing at a top-notch level and answered with a sublime quality of their own.
Houston blitzed the Warriors early by dominating in the paint. Their first quarter play-by-play is littered with all sorts of easy scores, such as “Ariza driving layup,” “Capela alley-oop dunk shot” and “Howard slam dunk shot.” It’s that last one that’s key though, as Dwight Howard had his knee rolled into by teammate Josh Smith, resulting in him leaving the game. Howard returned, except, unfortunately, he wasn’t himself.
Golden State was shooting under 40 percent, but with Howard compromised, they made their move, erasing the sizable deficit before halftime via a 25-6 run. The run was keyed by Shaun Livingston, who had a career-high 16 points in a half (14 of them in the second quarter), and their super small lineup that features Draymond Green at center. In the series preview, I noted that I didn’t think that lineup would dominate as it has against other teams due to Houston’s athleticism on the wing and having Howard, who can win vertically in ways the Memphis bigs can’t. Obviously that equation changed with Howard injured, compounded by Houston gumming up its offense by posting him up, which isn’t the wisest way to use him even when healthy.
As Stephen Curry heated up early in the third, the Warriors looked poised to turn this one into a laugher, but the Rockets marched onward with the effort they displayed in the latter half of the Clippers series, as opposed to the first few games. Trevor Ariza played a fantastic two-way game, posting 20 points on 10 shots, while James Harden made up for just seven points in the first half by dominating the fourth quarter offensively to finish with 28 points, 11 boards, nine assists and four steals.
Added to their primary perimeter playmakers, the Rockets also got quality bench minutes from Pablo Prigioni and Clint Capela. To win, the Warriors would need more than just Curry’s 34 points (6-11 from three), and their supporting cast came up huge. Green nearly had a triple-double in over 43 minutes. Livingston, as mentioned, was great. Festus Ezeli even provided much-needed rim protection and Andre Iguodala also contributed to the run that turned the tide in the first half.
Comparing the box score, the two teams appeared very evenly matched. The shooting percentages evened out with both around 47 percent from the field, with neither lighting it up from downtown nor from the free throw line.
Maybe the Warriors lose this game if Howard had been at full strength. This is another break they’ve caught in this magical season, but they can’t control who they play against, and they responded in the face of many Rockets playing well with the caliber of performance necessary to win. While an injured Howard would make the Warriors even more of a lock to win the series than they were heading into it, letting this game slip would have given Houston a lot of momentum and presented a scenario where it probably goes back to Oracle in Game 5 at two games apiece, where one bad break can end the season.
Time and time again in this postseason, Golden State has needed to come up with the goods to pull out a win and have done just that. As a result, they’re now more than halfway to a championship.