OAKLAND – It’s looking more and more as if the only way the Warriors can lose a game in the Western Conference Finals is if they donate a game to Houston.
They spent much of their 99-98 victory in Game 2 Thursday making a valiant effort to do precisely that.
The Warriors managed to enter the second quarter with an eight-point lead despite giving Houston 11 points off seven turnovers, all but one of them off an errant pass. They committed a total of 17 turnovers, off which the Rockets scored 24 points.
Quick math informs us that roughly one-quarter of Houston’s points resulted from errors made by the Warriors. Not just any errors, but the kind that wiped much of the smile off the faces of coach Steve Kerr and some of his team leaders.
“We were so anxious to play well and to compete that we just got a little out of sorts and started throwing some careless passes,” Kerr said.
“We haven’t played well at all,” said forward Draymond Green. “We haven’t put it together yet.”
And, still, the Warriors have taken a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series that moves to Houston for the Memorial Day weekend. That’s a testament to their ability to overcome themselves, to rely on productive depth, to summon suffocating defense almost on demand and to turn to MVP Stephen Curry.
The Warriors won Game 2 because they built a 17-point lead in the second quarter – and because they shot better (53.2 percent to 46.4), which was a result of ball movement on offense and holding the Rockets to 40 percent in the first quarter and having center Andrew Bogut (career-high five blocked shots) there all evening to remind Houston it would be quite challenging to get to the rim.
Though the teams traded leads in the second half, the Warriors played with enough swagger to suggest they believed they’d find avenues to victory. There also is the little fact they are undefeated (54-0) when holding a lead of at least 15 points at any time in a game this season.
“This series is just about who wants it and getting a win,” said Curry, whose team-high 33 points represented the seventh game with at least 30 points this postseason. “It’s fun, obviously the back and forth is. It’s a roller-coaster ride and you kind of want to just keep your composure at all costs to give yourself a good chance to win down the stretch.”
Holding an 87-85 lead with 5:32 to play, the Warriors went on a 7-1 run to take a 94-86 lead with 2:52 remaining. The eight-point cushion was just enough to keep the Rockets from taking the game with a late surge.
“This is how the playoffs go,” Kerr said. “You’re playing great teams. You’re playing teams that are generally a lot more in turn with game-planning and preparation, and generally healthier.
“I’ve never seen any team go through the playoffs just with ease. It’s hard. Playoff games are hard.”
Kerr speaks from his experience as a player, winning five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
And now, in his first season on the bench, he’s coaching a team that has won 10 of 12 games this postseason. The Warriors are two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals and six from winning it all.
“To be sitting here 2-0 is big,” Green said. “You have to feel like that game is coming soon where you put it all together. We probably need it more on the road than we do at home.
“It’s important that we stay focused and come out in Game 3 locked in. They are electric when they are at home because they fire more threes than they do on the road. They feel like they lost two games that they should have won. But I feel like we almost gave this one away.”
Curry was highly productive, scoring early and nailing five 3-pointers. His 13-of-21 shooting – along with Bogut’s 7-of-9 shooting – kept the offense humming.
Bogut’s interior defense was superb. Though the Rockets outscored the Warriors in the paint (56-52), the Warriors shot 63.4 percent inside compared to 52.8 percent by Houston.
Shaun Livingston scored eight points off the bench, making all four of his shots. He’s shooting 83.3 percent (10 of 12) through two games.
The Warriors’ 31 assists was their highest total for any game this postseason.
The turnovers, including six by Curry and four each by Green and Bogut, kept opening doors for the Rockets.
Warriors not named Curry or Bogut or Livingston combined to shoot 39.6 percent (17 of 43). Starting forwards Harrison Barnes and Green were 6-of-17.
As the Warriors continue to search for that showcase game, it must be assuring to know they can win 10 of 12 playoff games along the way. Game 2 was another example of them having enough fabulous moments to get away with sloppy play. It’s not a comfortable formula, certainly not one the coaching staff would heartily endorse. But they’re up 2-0, so it’s hard to argue with the results.