It turned out to make a huge difference.
Stephen Curry hit two free throws in the final seconds to finish with 34 points, and the Warriors rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second quarter to beat the Houston Rockets 110-106 on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
With the Rockets seemingly ready to rout the home team, the Warriors used a smaller lineup featuring 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center and closed the first half on a 21-4 run. Shaun Livingston scored 14 of his 18 points in the quarter, helping Golden State go ahead 58-55 at halftime.
The Warriors held off James Harden and Houston in the fourth quarter again behind their undersized lineup, which worked especially well after Rockets center Dwight Howard departed with a left knee injury.
Harden, the runner-up to Curry in the MVP voting, nearly brought the Rockets back without Howard in the fourth. Harden finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals, but his late push fell short.
Game 2 is Thursday night in Oakland, and it’s unclear if Howard can play. Howard doesn’t think the injury will sideline him for the series.
Harden, serenaded with chants of “Over-rated!” from Warriors fans, mixed in a series of step-back jumpers and driving layups to help Houston even the score at 95-all midway through the fourth.
But the Warriors shut down Houston for long stretches, and Curry kept hitting shots to match Harden’s brilliance. Curry connected on a 3-pointer and converted a layup to put Golden State up 108-97 with 2:01 remaining.
Curry twice caught the inbounds pass, and the Rockets were forced to foul him both times. He hit both free throws to seal Golden State’s win.
With Andrew Bogut in foul trouble and the Rockets rolling on both ends, the Warriors put Green – the runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year – at center and spread the court with shooters.
Green helped get stops, Livingston scored 14 points in the quarter and Curry capped the spurt with a step-back 20-footer that sent the crowd roaring even louder. Fans later broke out in chants of “M-V-P!” as the Warriors sprinted to the locker room with a 58-55 lead.
Golden State Warriors 110 beat Houston Rockets 106