SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – The new-look Houston Rockets roared back to beat NBA champions Golden State 122-121 yesterday, spoiling a celebratory night at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena in Oakland.
The Warriors marked the opening of the new season by handing out their championship rings and raising their 2016-17 championship banner.
Despite a furious rally by the Rockets, the Warriors thought they had won the game with a last-gasp basket from Kevin Durant, but the clock had expired a fraction of a second before the ball left Durant’s hand and it was the Rockets celebrating at the end of the night.
P.J. Tucker had given Houston the lead with a two free throws with 44.1 seconds remaining.
The Rockets trailed by as many as 17 and by 11 points entering the fourth quarter. They were down 114-107 after a three-pointer from Warriors star Stephen Curry with 5:12 remaining.
But the Rockets wouldn’t go away, producing a late flurry that included a three-point play by Eric Gordon and a three-pointer by Tucker.
Two offensive rebounds gave the Rockets another possession in the final minute. They trailed 121-120 when Tucker was fouled and made both his free throws.
Golden State, who lost only 15 times last season, turned the ball over on their next possession. They had a chance to win when Curry missed a three-pointer with five seconds left.
A deflection brought the ball to Durant, whose attempt from the baseline fell to thrill the crowd, only for a review to show it left his hand too late.
“I knew I was cutting it close,” Durant said.
James Harden had 27 points, Gordon 24 and Tucker 20 for the Rockets. Former Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, brought in to help the Rockets challenge the Warriors in the West, had just four points with 11 assists and eight rebounds in his debut for Houston.
Nick Young, a new arrival at Golden State this season, led the Warriors with 23 points off the bench.
Curry scored 22 and Durant 20 for the Warriors, who saw Draymond Green depart in the third quarter with a knee strain.
Before exiting, reigning defensive player of the year Green pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out 13 assists to go with nine points.
“He was our best player tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He was the guy bringing the energy and the life. We didn’t have much energy from most of the group tonight.
“As soon as he went out of the game things went south for us,” Kerr added. “We just couldn’t get any traction.”
The Warriors became just the fourth defending champions since 2000 to lose their opener the following season.