From the absence, once again, of Stephen Curry and others, to this being their second road game in 22 hours, to the belief that Rockets star James Harden would try to make a statement, conditions were ripe for the Warriors to lose Thursday night in Houston.
Power forward Draymond Green wouldn’t let it happen.
Shooting guard Klay Thompson wasn’t going to stand for it.
Swingman Andre Iguodala sensed the importance of the moment and, as he often does, raised his performance to a superior level.
One night after taking their worst loss in nearly three years, the Warriors pulled it together at Toyota Center and walked out with their most impressive win of this marvelous season, a 114-110 victory over the Rockets.
“Last night was embarrassing and we wanted to make this a good road trip and come away 1-1 with the undermanned roster we had,” Klay Thompson said, referring to a 114-91 loss to the Mavericks in Dallas. “We’re proud of it and we can’t wait to get home.”
So much of what went wrong Wednesday night in Dallas went right in Houston.
Thompson’s shooting, wretched against the Mavs, was gorgeous enough to yield a game-high 38 points. Green, who seemed lost without Curry in Dallas, altered his game to orchestrate the offense and racked up a 16 assists – a career-high and the most by any Warrior this season – as the centerpiece to his NBA-leading fifth triple-double. Iguodala understood the needs of his team and filled them, with 20 points, four assists, three rebounds, one steal and downright stellar defense.
The win pushed the Warriors’ record to 30-2 and allowed them to end the calendar year on a bright note, depressing the perplexing Rockets (16-18) and impressing interim coach Luke Walton.
“I expect that kind of effort out of all of our guys,” Walton said. “We’re the NBA defending champions and when you lose by 25 or 30 points, whatever it ended up being, you expect a much stronger performance the next night.
“The thing that makes us the most happy is that our guys did it together. It wasn’t Klay coming down pulling up jumpers and making his own shots, it was the ball movement, pass, pass, pass and when guys got hot, they were looking for them. They did it as a team. That’s the kind of play that you want from your team as a coach.”
The Warriors mashed the Rockets for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings, including the 2015 Western Conference Finals. Harden, with an opportunity to make a case for his belief that he was the MVP last season (the award went to Curry) as well as the league’s best shooting guard (against All-Star Thompson) scored 30 points but once again fell short.
The Warriors were not to be denied, mostly because Green ran the offense like a conductor, slowing it down when necessary and speeding it up when advantageous. It’s hard to get 16 assists with only two turnovers, nearly impossible for a “power forward” to do it.
“I just knew that we were going to slow the game down and the ball was probably going to come back through me a lot,” said Green, who had an astonishing 12 assists in the first half. “The way those guys were overplaying the passing lanes, which they do and they do it well, we had to use their pressure against them. And each time our guards made the right reads coming up back-dooring, and they were finishing. We were settling in the game and taking advantage of what was there.”
The Warriors made 43 baskets, off which they posted 35 assists. They won the battle of the glass 43-33, and shot 51.2 percent overall, 47.8 percent from deep.
It was a statement win in the sense that it proved two things, one being that they can win without Curry – and without Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa – and the other being that they can adapt on the fly.
And, well, one more thing: They summon tremendous pride in the wake of embarrassment.