Warriors start strong, finish stronger to top Rockets
Bookending poor second and third quarters with a dominant first and fourth, the Golden State Warriors continued their march toward the record books by downing the Houston Rockets 123-110 Tuesday night.
Behind yet another offensive explosion from guard Stephen Curry, and unrelenting work from the supporting staff, the Warriors (47-4) yet again dispatched the Rockets (27-27) with relative ease.
Despite electric middle quarters from reigning MVP runner-up James Harden, Golden State plowed through a stressful third to claim its 42nd consecutive home regular-season win.
The victory gives the Warriors an eight-game regular-season winning streak over Houston, and consecutive season sweeps over the Western Conference foe for the first time in franchise history.
Now boasting the best record through the first 51 games of the season in NBA history, the Warriors are on pace for 76 wins which would crush the all-time record of 72 in a season, held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Of the mark, center Andrew Bogut coyly joked:
“We have lost four games, so there’s some room for improvement, but for the most part we’ve got to be happy.”
In a first quarter that belonged entirely to the world champs and their MVP, the Warriors jumped out to a healthy 15-point lead, scoring 42 behind 19 from their star point guard.
Curry was officially announced as an All-Star game starter for a second straight season prior to the game, and went a sizzling 7-for-8 from the field in the frame (5-for-6 on threes), with his only miss coming on a 30-foot heave at the buzzer.
Fellow All-Star Klay Thompson chipped in with 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the quarter.
Holding the Rockets to a mere 27, however, had everything to do with solid team defense and shutting out Harden, thanks in large part to the grinding defense of first-time All-Star Draymond Green.
Joining Green with stiff defense on the front line was Bogut, who recorded season highs in steals (three) and blocks (five) to go with his first double-double of the season (13 points and 11 rebounds).
Head coach Steve Kerr believes that, among many factors, Bogut’s play may have been the most important element to his team’s success:
“Bogut was phenomenal tonight. It was the best game he’s played in a long time, on both ends of the floor. I thought he was dominant.”
The second period was a near inverse of the first, as the Rockets posted 42 en route to pulling within three. The Warriors defense thrived on slowing Harden in a solid first, but it was quite the opposite in the second.
Harden scored 18 of his game-high 37 in the frame, and with his first two free throw attempts of the night (both made) triggered a spurt of 15 straight points for his squad over a three-minute stretch. The run, which featured five made field goals on five attempts (3-for-3 on threes), trimmed the Warrior lead from 16 to seven.
The Golden State offense seemed to be stuck in mud through the middle quarters, as they relinquished the lead they had maintained since the onset, eventually trailing by as many as five in the third. Much of that can be attributed to just eight assists over the second and third periods (compared to 11 in the first quarter alone).
After his scorching first quarter, Curry’s shot ran dry. Coupled with the ineffectiveness of Thompson (13 points on five of 19 on field goals), Kerr’s bench was forced to pick up the slack. The unit was led by forward Harrison Barnes, who scored 17 of his 19 in the fourth, and wing man Andre Iguodala, with his usual suffocating defense.
Curry finished with 35, though he praised Barnes’ and Iguodala’s play in the fourth as the deciding factor:
“They gave us a huge boost. Andre played great defense, the whole team was jelling and Harrison made some huge shots, that got us a nice lead (in the fourth) and we were able to sustain it.”
The champs now head to Phoenix to face the Suns (14-39) Wednesday before separating for the All-Star break. They will not return to Oracle Arena until March, when they host the Atlanta Hawks in continuing the search for the record of 44 straight regular-season home wins en route to theat elusive 73rd win of the season.