BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Unable to maintain the momentum of jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game, the Warriors offense went cold in the fourth quarter when it mattered most, falling to the Houston Rockets 95-92 Tuesday night at Oracle in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
Houston’s comeback win quickly erased the memory of their embarrassing 41 point loss in Game 3. It ties the best of seven series at two games a piece and helped them regain the home court advantage and break the Warriors newly minted NBA Playoff record 16 game home winning streak in the process.
The Warriors got the ball back down 94-92 with 14 seconds remaining following a James Harden miss. Choosing to go up tempo and bring the ball up court without calling a timeout, Kevin Durant passed to Klay Thompson in the corner, but Trevor Ariza’s tough defense limited Thompson to an airball on a turnaround fadeaway jumper. After a referee’s review led to a foul being called against Shaun Livingston with 0.5 seconds remaining, the Warriors got one final chance down by three, but Steph Curry was unable to get off a shot before the buzzer.
Asked about the failed final offensive possession, Kevin Durant said ” I raced it down. I saw Klay running along the baseline and maybe should have waited until he set his feet, but I just threw a bounce pass and tried to relocate for it. But that’s not the reason we lost the game. I wish it could have been a better possession at the end, but we’ve got to live with that and move on and be better next game. So I definitely wish I had that last play back.”
Golden State jumped out to it’s early lead with a strong defensive performance as Kevon Looney started in place of the injured Andre Iguodala, unable to play due to a leg contusion suffered when he collided with the Rockets James Harden during Sunday’s game. The Warriors held Houston to 35% shooting in the first quarter, but their inability to land a knockout punch or maintain their early lead allowed the Rockets to get back into both the game and the series.
Iguodala’s absence was magnified in the fourth quarter as the Warriors seemed winded without their usual depth off the bench. Also, when Curry left the game in early foul trouble midway thru the second quarter, the Rockets pounced, turning their big early deficit into a 53-46 advantage going into the locker room at halftime.
In a game that often resembled a championship prizefight with both teams going on extended runs and exchanging the lead, Curry scored 17 in the third quarter for the second straight game to help the Warriors take a 80-70 lead into the final quarter. The Warriors outscored Houston 34-17 in the third after being outscored 34-18 in the second quarter.
But in a fourth quarter that saw four more lead changes, the Warriors were dreadful. Going cold at the wrong time Golden State shot 3-18 from the field and were outscored 25-12 with the game on the line. Their 16.7 field goal percentage was their worst shooting quarter of season, and their 12 points set a franchise record for the fewest scored in a playoff game in the shot clock era.
Houston got a game high 30 points from James Harden along with 27 from Chris Paul in what was easily his best game of the series, but in a game where the Rockets only used seven players it was P.J. Tucker that was their unsung hero. Playing a team high 44 minutes Tucker pulled down a game high 16 rebounds while combining with Clint Capela (13 rebounds in only 23 minutes) to help stifle Golden State’s offense when they needed it most, holding the Warriors to a subpar 39.3 shooting percentage from the field.
Curry again led Golden State with 28 points, but in spite of his third quarter heroics he was only 10-26 from the field. Kevin Durant added 27 points to go along with 12 rebounds, while Draymond Green put up another near triple-double. Green played a game high 45 minutes, including the entire second half on the way to 11 points to go along with 13 rebounds and eight assists. After the game when Green was asked if physical or mental fatigue impacted the the Warriors, he responded “It’s the Western Conference Finals. You’re battling to get to the Finals. No one is worried about fatigue.”
Meanwhile, Warriors coach Steve Kerr indicated the opposite. “It definitely played a role. I thought we made that great push in the third, but we weren’t really able to make many subs. We were going well, so we didn’t want to disrupt our rhythm. But our normal sub patterns obviously were skewed anyway with Andre’s absence. I felt like in the fourth quarter we just ran out of gas. Scored 12 points. Tried to buy a little bit of rest for our guys, but they just outplayed us in the fourth and they earned it.”
Asked about the final possession, Kerr stated ” Well, I wanted the timeout. Draymond was trying to call one around four seconds (remaining), once he (Klay) got trapped, and at that point the officials weren’t looking, and they’re not going to look down at our bench. I was hoping they’d give it to us, but we didn’t get it.”
Game 5 is scheduled to tip off at 6pm from the Toyota Center in Houston. The series will then return to Oracle Saturday night at the same time for a potential series clinching game, the only question being which of these two heavyweights will be holding a 3-2 advantage.