After a Game 1 marred by officiating concerns, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets reconvened on Tuesday evening for a highly anticipated battle in Oakland. The Rockets, by nature of their 1-0 series deficit, entered the night with a sense of urgency but, at the end of 48 minutes that were not saturated with officiating controversy, the Warriors emerged on top with a 115-109 win to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
The evening began with a defensive statement from the Warriors, as the home team generated turnovers and secured an early advantage behind six quick points from Andre Iguodala.
Then, things got weird on the injury front, first with Steph Curry leaving the game with a dislocated finger on his left hand.
During Curry’s absence, the Warriors zoomed to a 22-8 lead. One of the highlights came from Jonas Jerebko, who briefly replaced Curry in the lineup.
Curry would return with relative haste but, on the other side, James Harden took a shot to the face from Draymond Green that sent him to the locker room for a long stretch.
With Harden on the sideline, the Rockets continued to scuffle offensively, making only seven of their 19 shots in the first quarter with nine turnovers in the first 12 minutes. Fortunately, Houston did snap out of it in the second, with Austin Rivers helping to spur a 9-3 opening run.
Harden then returned to the bench and, while he didn’t check in immediately, the reigning MVP returned (despite clear discomfort) with Houston having cut the lead to just five points during his sabbatical. That proved to be crucial in keeping Houston engaged but, seemingly on cue, the Warriors pushed their edge back to 11 with the help of a 10-2 run.
To provide optimism heading into the break, Harden scored the final five points, slashing the margin to single digits.
Houston was able to stay competitive with 10 threes on 22 attempts but, in contrast, a balanced attack formed from the Warriors, including four players in double figures led by Klay Thompson.
Coming out of the break, the Rockets continued to throw haymakers from beyond the arc, stretching their hot shooting to 13-for-27 from three-point range. In opposition, though, Durant was scorching, scoring eight points in the first 2:02 of the third quarter to keep the Warriors in a comfortable position.
Curry picked up his fourth foul with the Warriors leading 76-63 early in the period, opening the door for Houston, but the Rockets couldn’t fully capitalize. The visitors did climb within nine points but, in typical fashion, the Warriors threw an uppercut in the form of back-to-back threes from Thompson over a 30-second period.
When the second triple connected, the Warriors led by 15 points again at 82-67. But Chris Paul wasn’t phased, delivering one of the highlights of the night in an attempt to chip away at the deficit.
The Rockets were able to gain significant ground during the stretch run of the third quarter, as the Warriors failed to score a single point in the final 4:15 of the period. Houston’s push was capped by a trio of free throws from Harden in the final seconds and, when the fourth quarter arrived, the Rockets trailed by a modest, seven-point margin.
With a long-range connection from Gerald Green, the Rockets climbed back within four at 84-80, though Shaun Livingston responded with four straight of his own to push the margin back to eight.
Not to be outdone, Harden quickly scored seven straight on his own, bringing the Rockets within a three-point margin for the first time in a long time.
The Warriors seemingly didn’t enjoy being that close to the Rockets on the scoreboard, with Green finding Iguodala to cap a mini-run and send the Rockets into a timeout at 98-90 with less than six minutes remaining.
Eventually, Golden State would stretch that spurt to 9-0 overall and that provided the top-seeded squad with a double-digit lead as crunch time approached. From there, Houston never fully challenged again but the Rockets did cut the lead to six with less than 90 seconds ago after some carelessness in ball security from the Warriors.
The final seconds of the contest did not provide high drama, though, with Paul missing an open three in the final minute that truly would have provided a threat. Curry then buried a pair of free throws to restore order and that sequence paved the way for the final margin, even with some abject weirdness in the closing seconds.
It was a balanced, highly impressive offensive showing from the Warriors, with the full Hamptons 5 in double-figures and notable efficiency from the full squad throughout the night. Durant (29 points, five rebounds, four assists), Thompson (21 points, five rebounds, three steals) and Curry (20 points, five assists) led the way from a production standpoint, with Green (15 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists) and Iguodala (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) filling in the gaps in on-brand fashion.
Given the firepower on the Houston side, the series is far from over, but the Rockets now enter absolute must-win territory when the two teams get together for the first time in a new venue. Game 3 won’t arrive until Saturday evening but, in the meantime, the underdogs will come to grips with the urgency that awaits them in that primetime match-up.