HOUSTON – Draymond Green knew what he had to do.
So did Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.
Everybody wearing a Warriors jersey Sunday afternoon realized the second half of Game 4 against the Rockets was their moment of postseason crisis, and that their response would speak volumes about their capability without Stephen Curry.
The response was loud and emphatic enough to silence a sold-out Toyota Center, the Rockets, and, quite likely, even loyal fans throughout the Houston region.
With Curry out of action after spraining his right knee, Green cranked up his defense. Thompson did the same. They also brought their offense, and their teammates kept the rhythm until the Warriors had locked down a 121-94 rout.
“It didn’t surprise me one bit that we played so well in the second half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Our guys play for each other. I think they were playing for Steph in the second half.”
They also were playing to close out this series, and with a 3-1 lead they can do exactly that in Game 5 on Wednesday at Oracle Arena.
“We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to take the game,” Green said. “And know that it won’t be easy. We know that Steph probably won’t be playing, and do what we’ve got to do to win the game and bring the energy to Oracle.”
Green was phenomenal, making amends for a poor Game 3 performance by playing the type of all-around game that has made him an All-Star. He finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists. With stellar defense added to the equation, he was plus-34 for the game.
“With Steph going out, you’ve got to step everything up,” Green said. “I felt I was better in the first half, but I still didn’t have the level of everything that I need to have. I knew in the third quarter, if we wanted to win that game that I had to turn it up a notch.”
Green credited Houston forward Donatas Motiejunas for further igniting his intensity, saying the 7-footer was jabbering through the game. Turns out it wasn’t a smart idea.
Thompson needed no such motivation from the opponent. His assignment is James Harden, the star of Game 3, and that ought to be enough to get his attention. If Harden were to play hero again, this series might be tied.
Yet even Thompson, normally so austere with his expressions, conveyed intensified emotion. The thought of Curry being down – and the anxiety resulting from the uncertainty of his return – brought a heightened sense of urgency.
“Just trying to raise the level on intensity,” said Thompson, whose game-high 23 points included seven 3-pointers. “Game 3 kind of felt like we had some lulls and we weren’t that emotional. But when you play with great emotion and you play for your teammates and get excited when they make a play, it carries over to everybody.”
The defense was the foundation. Houston was able to go in at halftime tied 56-56 because of 51.4-percent shooting. The Warriors iced them in the second half, holding the Rockets to 38 total points on 34.1-percent shooting.
“With Steph coming out limping, we’ve been in this position and we just put our foot on the gas and turned things up,” center Andrew Bogut said. “We didn’t realize it was going to be a floodgate, but we turned it up and won.”
It was, for the Warriors, a triumph of the spirit at a time when the spirit needed a boost. With Curry, they are favorites to repeat. Without him, they play under the largest question mark of these NBA playoffs.
So they understood what they were facing, if not exactly what they might be facing as these games continue.
“It puts a little pressure on you and you feel like you’re threatened a little bit when your best player goes down,” said Andre Iguodala, who scored 22 points. “It’s like all your senses get a little hyped. We had to be more in-tune and more aware of the game. We can’t just rely on him to bail us out in a close game.”
So the Warriors, without Curry, bailed themselves out and won by 27. They’re one win from advancing, and for at least one night there is reaffirmed belief in how far they might be able to go in these playoffs.