LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Golden State Warriors showed their championship mettle Saturday, roaring back to rout the Houston Rockets 115-86 to force a decisive game seven in the NBA Western Conference finals.
Klay Thompson scored 35 points, Stephen Curry scored 29 and Kevin Durant added 23 as the Warriors rallied from a 17-point first-quarter deficit to knot the best-of-seven series at 3-3 – and keep their bid to reach a fourth straight championship series alive.
“I don’t want to go home,” said Thompson, who made nine three-pointers. “We worked too hard this season to go home.” But in the early going it looked like the Warriors would do just that.
The Rockets, who led the league with 65 regular season wins, ran roughshod over Golden State in the opening quarter as they raced to a 39-22 lead.
Houston’s Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden dominated early, finishing with 32 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
But the Warriors defense clamped down on Harden in the second half and the Rockets felt the absence of injured point guard Chris Paul, who suffered a strained right hamstring in the Rockets’ game-five victory.
“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine.”
The Warriors showed signs of life in the second quarter, putting together a 23-11 scoring run and trimming the deficit to five points. But they trailed 61-51 at halftime. Then came one of their trademark third-quarter surges. Golden State opened the second half on an 11-0 scoring run, taking the lead for the first time since the opening minutes when Curry drained a three-pointer for a 62-61 advantage.
Soon, the rout was on.
“I think the turnovers got them going,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, whose team finished with 21 turnovers. “Then once you get them going and they get out of the box – we didn’t communicate really well two or three times, and then they just got on a roll. You get these guys on a roll, and they can hurt you.”
Kerr was at a loss to explain the early defensive lapses.
“We lost people in transition. We didn’t communicate. We gave up wide-open threes,” he said. “It was sort of a head scratcher. I was more worried about the offense coming into the game than the defense. But the defense eventually kicked in, and obviously that led to transition, and the shotmaking in the second half was just amazing.”
The Warriors outscored the Rockets 64-25 in the second half, limiting Harden to 10 points after the break.
Eric Gordon, starting in place of Paul, scored just three of his 19 points after the interval.
“I think once we settled down defensively and started staying with people and not making mistakes in transition, then we wore them down a little bit,” Kerr said.
The lack of defensive focus that plagued Golden State early was mirrored by the Rockets late.
“A lot of miscommunication,” Harden said. “That first quarter we did a really good job of communicating, limiting them on threes, just contesting everything, making everything difficult.”
Although they couldn’t keep that up, Harden said, the Rockets remain confident they can close out the series on their home floor tonight and return to the NBA Finals for the first time since Houston won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
“Nothing changes for us,” Harden said. “We know what we have to do. We’re still confident. We’re a confident group. We’ve just got one chance.”
Thompson said the Warriors would be ready.
“Effort, intensity, passion, those three things and playing smart,” he said of what it will take to beat the Rockets on their home floor. “(If) we take the same focus and execute the game plan like we should I have all the confidence in the world in this team.”