It was the Kevin Durant show in Houston on Monday night.
In the most anticipated game of the season, The Golden State Warriors took Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in Houston on Monday night, taking back home court advantage, beating the Rockets 119-106 behind a 37 performance by KD.
James Harden was a monster in his own right, looking nearly as unguardable as Durant all game with a 41 point performance. But the Rockets simply had no answer for Durant, who routinely hit contested mid-range jumpers over smaller defenders all night. Durant’s offensive output helped make-up for a quiet offensive night from Curry, who scored just 18 points on 8-15 shooting, but did add eight assists with the defense chasing him all night.
As good as Durant was offensively, Draymond Green matched him on the defensive end, finishing with a game-high +19, while adding nine rebounds and nine assists. Klay Thompson also came alive in the second half, finishing with 28 points and six 3-pointers.
The difference in the game may have been the turnover battle, the Warriors’ Achilles heel since Kerr took over. Golden State committed just nine turnovers to the Rockets’ 16, while also matching them from behind the arc with 13 made 3s. The Rockets entered the game averaging just nine turnovers per game in the playoffs.
After much speculation, Steve Kerr elected to go with the small-ball death lineup of Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Green from the jump. The unit that has played so well this postseason got off to a rocky start, going -8 in their first four minutes on the floor, before two quick Andre Iguodala fouls forced him to the bench.
It took all of 67 seconds for the fireworks to start, when Draymond Green received a technical foul for bumping Harden after the whistle. Harden responded with a first quarter that lived up to his likely MVP status, scoring the Rockets’ first nine points, and 11 in the quarter. Golden State responded with a 6-1 run after taking the initial punch.
While the Warriors had trouble with Harden, Houston had similar issues with Durant, who had 13 of his own in the quarter. Golden State also defended the sharpshooting Rockets well, holding them to just 2-for-8 from behind the line in the frame. All things considered, Golden Sate was happy to be down just 30-21 after the first 12 minutes.
The Harden vs. Durant duel continued in the second quarter. Harden finished the half with 24 points on 8-12 shooting (with four 3s), while Durant had 14 on 8-13 from the field. In an interesting twist, Nick Young provided two timely 3s in the quarter, including one with 11.2 seconds that tied the game at 56 going into halftime.
As they have all season, the Warriors came out firing in the third quarter, opening on a 9-4 run, and extending that to a 22-14 run after Trevor Ariza exited with five fouls. Houston made a late 8-0 run towards the end of the quarter when Durant was briefly subbed out, making what could’ve been a very ugly 12 minutes more respectable, losing the frame 31-24, with the Warriors holding an 87-80 advantage heading into the fourth.
With Durant still on the bench, Thompson more than carried the load to start the quarter, scoring eight points — including two 3s — in the first three minutes. Thompson also recovered a loose ball, and hit a near-dagger 3-pointer to give Golden State a 10 point lead with 3:55 remaining. Houston wouldn’t make another push.
The Rockets will try and even things up on Wednesday in Game 2 at 6 PM on TNT.