OAKLAND – The Warriors own this playoff series, with or without Steph Curry.
They’re too prepared, too united and too committed to give the Houston Rockets even an imaginary glimpse of optimism.
And, moreover, these Warriors in a 115-106 Game 2 victory Monday night proved they are much too deep through the roster to give back a 2-0 series lead to a team so heedless and disconnected as the Rockets even as the action shifts to Houston for Games 3 and 4.
Game 2 unfolded with neither beauty nor Curry, as the reigning MVP was out after tweaking his right ankle in Game 1 on Saturday. The Warriors didn’t bring the stifling defense that had served them so well in Game 1, and they didn’t keep Houston star James Harden off the foul line.
No matter. The Warriors in the second quarter got their second wind, much of it supplied by Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, and took the air out of the Rockets and delighted the usual sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.
“When you lose the MVP you've got concern,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we believe in our depth and in our ability to win when we're down a man even if it is Steph. So I’m very pleased with the effort, and obviously with the outcome.”
The Rockets are an utter mess, with Harden avoiding any rumor of defense and center Dwight Howard submitting empty numbers and silly fouls. They are The Underachievers of the Western Conference, and there is no sign of that changing.
Certainly not against the Warriors, who are doing their part to take full advantage. After fixing their lazy 3-point defense – Houston made 6-of-9 to start, before tailing off to 4-of-16 – the Warriors maintained a lead before blowing it open in the fourth quarter, in which they led by as much as 16.
Having now won 13 of the last 14 games between the teams, including six of the last seven in the postseason, the Warriors, even without Curry, have their shoes firmly on the necks of the Rockets.
“I'm not in that position, so I don't know totally, but it's got to be tough, like you almost feel like you have to do everything right to beat us in a sense,” Thompson said, assessing Houston’s plight. “Even when we're not hitting shots, we can rely on our defense and grind out games and we proved that this year. We've got such great versatility 1 through 15 that we can throw such great looks at you.”
From Thompson (34 points) and Iguodala (18 off the bench and Shaun Livingston (16 points, six assists while starting in place of Curry) through Draymond Green (near triple-double) and Andrew Bogut (master of the paint) there was a connectivity that ran the length of the roster.
“We've relied on our depth all year,” Green said. “Not only when Steph's out. Steph is playing and we rely on our depth. The No. 1 reason for Andre coming off the bench last year was to bring more depth. Shaun . . . (Leandro), Barbosa, Festus (Ezeli), Mo (Speights), Brandon Rush, I think we're the deepest team in the NBA.”
Kerr and his staff provided a clinical example of maximizing roles and utilizing individuals when the best player is unavailable.
It worked out so well there is no need for Curry to rush back. Sure, the Warriors are infinitely better with him. They’re also quite good without him, vastly inferior to the Rockets as a team. Kerr indicated that Curry’s return is unrelated to the direction of the series and totally dependent on his healing.
“We’d never want to put winning ahead of a player’s career and his health,” the coach said. “We’ve seen teams do that and paid for it. Players have paid for it in in the past, so we want to make sure Steph is right and his foot is fine and healthy.
“So we’ll see how he responds the next couple days. And if he’s not right, obviously being up 2-0 does give us more cushion if we decide to sit him.”
The Warriors have five games to win two, with or without Curry, and they surely won’t need four or five. Maybe not even three. They sense the Rockets wobbling and seem eager to finish them off, a conclusion that seems forgone.