Warriors power past Rockets in crunch time

ORACLE ARENA — The Warriors put fear into the hearts of their fans Wednesday night. Playing ugly and out of character, their winning streak looked as though it might be broken by the Rockets.

But the Warriors closed out the game in perfect fashion, extending their franchise-best winning streak to 14-consecutive games with a 105-93 victory.

Scoring his first points since the second quarter, Stephen Curry brought the Warriors within one point of Houston with 7:05 left in the game. Though James Harden (34 points) quickly answered on the other end, Harrison Barnes, scored, assisted and rebounded, trying everything he could to give the Warriors a chance.

On a drive with 3:56 remaining, Barnes hit the bucket and the foul shot that followed to give the Warriors a 94-89 lead that sparked the Warriors, waking them up on both ends of the floor.

The Warriors closed out the game on a 16-4 run to bring the Oracle crowd screaming to their feet. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said watching the team finish the game with defense and grit was more than satisfying:

“It was great. It took so long for us to break through tonight. … We had just tremendous effort from everybody on the floor.”

It wasn’t all pretty though. Sloppy, turnover- and foul-riddled basketball dominated the court for the larger part of the first half and late in the second quarter murmurs of disapproval were the only audible noises coming from the crowd.

With Andrew Bogut sidelined by a mild case of tendinitis in his right knee, Kerr started center Festus Ezeli. Prior to the game, Kerr said instead of passing through the high post as they would with Bogut, they would play to the strengths of Ezeli, working off screen-and-rolls and diving to the rim.

In the first four minutes of the opening quarter, Kerr’s plan paid off, with Ezeli racking up seven quick points from inside and at the free throw line. But Houston tenaciously capitalized on every Warriors misstep, including Golden State starting the game 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

As the game progressed, it was clear that without Bogut on the floor, the Warriors would have to find a different way of getting their things going. Kerr credited Draymond Green (11 points, eight rebounds) with being the person who saved the game and doing it on the defensive end:

“Draymond. I don’t know what else to say about him. He guards [Donatas] Motiejunas down the stretch and fronts him, steals the ball a couple times, switches to Harden, guards him then jumps out on Beverley or Jason Terry. I mean, the versatility defensively for what Draymond brings is just remarkable.”

After trailing since the 7:48 mark of the first quarter by as many as 11 points — and allowing James Harden to have his way on offense — the Warriors found much-needed help from Curry. In the final two minutes of the second quarter, Curry scored nine straight points, sending the Warriors and Rockets into the second half tied 46-46.

But just as the Warriors’ shots started to fall in the third and Harden was kept relatively at bay, the Warriors lost their inside game and the Rockets started to move the ball, spreading scoring through the Houston roster.

With help from Marreese Speights, Golden State kept the game close, trailing by just three points heading into the final frame.

As the game continued to stay too close for comfort with the Warriors continuing to fall behind by one point here and there, Golden State finally switched into clutch-mode, finishing the game and bringing their record to 19-2.

Barnes told SFBay after the game it’s the games that start out ugly that make him and the rest of the team better and more prepared to face the elite teams:

“There’s going to be games where you’re not going to shoot it well. You have to get used to playing those games. When you’re shooting the ball fine, its not a problem. You have to get used to playing another style just so you can be prepared for them.”

The Warriors, now an NBA-best 19-2, head out on a three-game road trip kicked off with back-to-back games Saturday in Dallas and Sunday in New Orleans.

Notes

At 19-2 the Warriors are off to their best start through 21 games in the history of the franchise. The Warriors are one of only 16 teams in the NBA history to begin a season with at least 19 wins through 21 games. … With a 19-2 record through 21 games, Steve Kerr is off to the best start of a coaching career in NBA history. … The Warriors trailed entering the fourth frame, but are now 4-1 when trailing after three quarters this year. … Golden State earned its league-best fourteenth double-digit victory of the season. … Harrison barnes tallied his 10th career 20-point game (second this season) with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. … Andrew Bogut missed his first game of the season. … Marreese Speights score in double figures for the eighth consecutive game, a new career-long streak, finishing with 15 points to go with eight rebounds. … James Harden recorded his eighth 30-point game of the season with a game-high 34 points. Houston lost for the first time this year when Harden put up at least 30 points (7-1).


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