HOUSTON – The Great Showcase Game continues to elude the Warriors, and maybe they’ll never find it.
Maybe they’ll never need it.
They displayed nearly all of the best of themselves in the first half Saturday night, and that was more than enough to annihilate the Houston Rockets, giving the Warriors a 3-0 lead and a firm grip on the Western Conference Finals.
One more win, they move to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975.
The final score, 115-80, is indicative of the rout that occurred at Toyota Center. In a game the Rockets desperately needed, the Warriors were vastly superior in every way. They shot better, rebounded better, defended better and won all four quarters.
But the first half was an illustration of sheer domination, 24 minutes of practically perfect basketball that demoralized the Rockets and quickly transported the fans at Toyota Center from hopeful to anxious to distraught.
It was a no-pity performance from a club without remorse.
“Everybody in the locker room strives for excellence,” Draymond Green said. “That’s one thing that we said we wanted to do from Day 1. So that’s everyone. You know, it takes a certain level of focus to do that.”
The Warriors reached that optimum level in the first 24 minutes, after which they held a 62-37 lead. They had 15 assists and one turnover, a questionable moving screen against Harrison Barnes. They won the rebounding battle, 30-22. Most impressive of all, they held the Rockets to 29.3 percent shooting.
All of it added up to a 25-point halftime lead despite shooting only 45.1 percent.
“If you look at that box score, you think, well, they didn’t play that well,” coach Steve Kerr said. “(But) we had one turnover . . . We defended like crazy. And because we didn’t turn it over, we didn’t have to guard them in transition.
“So we’re up 25 points with a box score that doesn’t look that impressive from a shooting standpoint. It’s a great lesson for our team. If we defend like crazy and take care of the ball, we’re going to be in good shape.”
MVP Stephen Curry led the charge, finishing with 40 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. He orchestrated the spectacular start before burying Houston with 34 points in the second and third quarters.
“We got stops, we got rebounds, and being able to push in transition and put htem on their heels defensively – and we didn’t turn the ball over,” Curry said. “That’s how you keep momentum on your side.”
So remarkable were they in the first half that the second half was a matter of formality. The Warriors after intermission outscored the Rockets by 10 and outrebounded them by 17. To give the coaches some ammunition, they got sloppy with the basketball.
“Because we’re us, we decided to turn it over 13 times in the second half, just to keep it interesting,” Kerr cracked.
“We’re still growing. We’re still learning. But tonight the first half was probably the best lesson our team could learn and could understand. It’s all about valuing every possession and defending like crazy and everybody competing.”
This was the Warriors stretching for the standard they wish to set, no matter the opponent. Houston, the No. 2 seed in the West, just happened to be in the same room.
“We’re not even thinking about them,” forward Andre Iguodala said. “I think that’s what sets up a championship mentality. We’re not worried about who we play against but how we’re playing and imposing our will.
“When you’re clicking, you don’t get comfortable and you keep playing with the flow and making decisions on the basketball court and they were working tonight.”
Curry surely persuaded the last of the holdouts that he, and not Rockets guard James Harden, deserved the MVP award. Even the Houston fans seemed to accept this. The 12-of-19 shooting, including 7-of-9 from deep, was devastating. He became the all-time leader for 3-pointers in a single postseason with 64.
Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli were an imposing tandem at center, combining for 22 points, 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.
The defense held the Rockets to 29.3 percent in the first quarter, 26.3 in the second and 34.8 in the third. Unreal numbers.
Sending a rotating crew of defenders at Harden, they held the star guard to 17 points on 3-of-16 shooting from the field.
Not much to see here, unless you with to make an issue of an irrelevant second half or Harrison Barnes inability to score (0-of-9 shooting) in 29 minutes.
The Warriors are one game away from the NBA Finals because they attacked this game, this moment, with a degree of hostility. They actually were displeased with their work in Games 1 and 2 and sought to better represent themselves and their talent. They succeeded and now have good reason to believe they can sweep Houston into its offseason. Why not? They now have the formula.