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James Harden quickly throws Warriors back to earth

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The touching story of the gritty, gutsy, underdog Warriors trouncing over the teams that were supposed to swat them like flies lasted about 15 more minutes.

They road the good waves from their stunning victory over the Trail Blazers into Houston and were ready to do it all over again. A pair of MVPs on the opposing team? So what, Eric Paschall’s 3-point fake and driving dunk boosting the Warriors to a four-point lead with 4:44 to play in the half.

And Goliath opened his eyes, scratched at his beard and realized he wasn’t playing Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green or even D’Angelo Russell.

James Harden, previously silent, ripped off 18 points in under five minutes, including four 3s, part of 26-6 run that buried the Warriors, who fell 129-112 in Houston on Wednesday. The effort was not in question, but the talent will be all season.

While it won’t get harder, it won’t immediately get much easier for the Warriors (2-6), either. They head to Minnesota for a game Friday, then to Oklahoma City for a game Saturday before returning to Chase Center to host the Jazz on Monday.

The fact Golden State had a six-point first-half lead and fought back to within 10 in the third, keeping the game within a long arm’s reach until the fourth, speaks well to Steve Kerr’s unusual crew. The ball movement was there, Alec Burks (28 points on 10-of-18 shooting) emerging this time to mostly keep up a team with much greater expectations.

And in a literal sense, most teams just can’t keep up with Harden (36 points in 35 minutes) and Russell Westbrook (18 points), constantly on the run and constantly a half-step ahead. Waiting at the 3-point arc were Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers, who combined to go 9-for-10 from 3 for 29 total points.

Golden State kept answering until they stuttered, mouths moving but nothing coming out.

Burks was the Warriors’ best player, showing why landing him was such a surprise coup this offseason. He doesn’t overwhelm, but he can step back (3-for-8 from 3) and was able to dribble and drive his way past a Houston defense that often was just waiting for offense to start again.

Paschall was not as efficient as he’s been in his breakout recent stretch, but even on nights he isn’t carrying the full load on his 255-pound body, he plays within the rhythm of the offense and serves as a nice go-to option. But he needs to be nearly perfect for the Warriors to have a chance against most teams, much less a team with the firepower of the aptly named Rockets.

He just missed scoring 20 points for a fourth game in five contests, finishing with 19 on 15 attempts, adding six rebounds and three assists. Again, he demonstrated just how rare he is as a rookie who can get wherever he wants.

One of the last promising moments of the night for the Warriors came halfway through the second quarter, when Paschall, at the 3-point arc, looked down Harden, took a jab and then exploded, his shoulder lowering and quickly both beating and bruising Harden to the hoop. He made the driving layup with a foul on Harden that made it 43-40.

But it unraveled from there, Houston exploding to close the second and picking up where it left off in the third. Harden’s 3 with about eight minutes left in the third pushed the lead to 79-58 and virtually made the rest of the game just a learning exercise — which, to be fair, is how this season will be.

These Warriors games will be more about moments than momentum. More about progress than playoffs. Paschall and Burks showed plenty. Jordan Poole, not so much.

The Warriors would like to see more progress from the rookie guard from Michigan, who has not been a part of the good vibes around the organization. He shot 2-of-11 and 2-of-8 from 3, showing himself as the weak link in a weak starting five.

Golden State entered the half down 63-52, shuttering the Harden floodgates until they exploded. The Warriors had been in control through 17 minutes, Paschall their leader though not as solid as he’s been (11 points on 4-of-12 shooting in the half).


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