BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Kevin Durant continued playing on another level, scoring 35 points, 24 in the second half, to lead the Warriors past the Houston Rockets 104-100 in a hotly contested game Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals.
Playing on short rest after a gritty Clippers team pushed them to six games in the opening round, Golden State surprisingly jumped out of the gate quickly, taking a 16-9 lead before Houston rallied and the game settled into a tight affair throughout. The Rockets largest lead was four points and the Warriors never trailed in the fourth quarter.
Durant’s scoring output has now produced 130 points in his last three games. The Warriors balanced attack also featured 18 points from Steph Curry and 14 each from Andre Iguodala (6-7) and Draymond Green (7-9). Green’s stat line also included nine rebounds and nine assists.
James Harden tied Durant as the game’s high scorer with 35, but but his 9-28 performance from the field was a reflection of the way he struggled against the Warriors defense at times. Eric Gordon (10-19) had a strong game for Houston with 27 points, while Chris Paul added 17 before getting ejected late in the game for his second technical foul.
The Warriors survived in spite of some often sloppy play, turning the ball over 20 times, including eight in the first quarter. But after the game coach Steve Kerr was more focused on their defensive performance.
“I couldn’t be more happy with the effort. It’s a five-man game when you’re guarding James (Harden). It’s not about just the one guy who is on him. The other four guys have to be in the right spots to help. And I thought our defense was excellent tonight. What hurt our defense was our turnovers. That stretch at the end of the second quarter we had a 10-point lead. Then we go into halftime tied because we had 13 turnovers. There’s no defense for transition shots off of turnovers. That’s what we’ve got to clean up. But other than that, we made them fight for every open look.”
Asked about Durant’s recent efforts, Kerr added, “He’s the most skilled basketball player on earth. He’s one of the most skilled basketball players to ever play the game. There’s never been anybody like him. 6’11”, handles the ball, shoots 3’s, passes, defends. He’s just an unbelievable talent. And I think after we lost game 2 to the Clippers, he just felt like he had to turn it up and lift us up another level and that’s exactly what he’s done. Kevin can get his own shot at any time he wants. That’s what makes him so impossible to guard. He understands what we need from him and he’s been delivering game after game.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night at Oracle Arena with tipoff scheduled for 7:30pm.
Golden State is now 13-5 vs. Houston in the postseason dating back to 2015. This is the fourth time in the past five years that the teams have met in the playoffs.
The Warriors’ record in Game 1 is now 17-1 going back to the 2015 postseason, with Sunday’s win being their 11th straight in an opener. The only defeat was against Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference Finals when Kevin Durant was still a member of the Thunder.
Sunday marked the sixth consecutive postseason game the Warriors have limited the Rockets to 100-or-fewer points.
Durant is the first Golden State player with 35 or more points in three straight playoff games since Rick Barry in 1967.
Steph Curry extended his NBA Playoff record streak to 97 consecutive games making a three-point basket.
DeMarcus Cousins was on the Warriors bench for the first time since tearing his left quadriceps muscle in Game 2 of the opening round against the Clippers.