Chris Paul dropped 33, James Harden hit a dagger in his second game back from injury and the Rockets-Warriors matchup proved just as interesting as advertised.
Saturday was theoretically a great day for sweeping playoff-centric takes, with the Cavs falling apart against a surging, star-led Thunder team in the afternoon, then the Warriors and Rockets deciding their season series in Houston a few hours later. It was a meeting rife with mistakes, but not lacking for symbolism as the hosts mostly imposed their will, capitalized on mistakes and came away with a 116-108 win.
True to its star-studded nature, this game had a little bit of everything. There was an extended ABC televised interlude bemoaning player-ref relations (and briefly losing sight of the actual game). There were oddities: Harden only shot two free throws, Eric Gordon was 0–9 from three, Klay Thompson had just eight points. There were 34 total turnovers. There was a sequence where Kevin Durant lost his shoe. Golden State’s 14-game road win streak was snapped. And Houston remains undefeated in games where Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela … all play.
All that made for an interesting matchup atop what is always a fun watch — these are two dynamic offenses with key stylistic differences. The Warriors harp on ball movement and unselfishness and unshakeable chemistry. The Rockets are more reliant on quick actions and allowing Harden and Paul to dictate the game out of isolation and high ball screens. Houston’s duo was spectacular, with Paul sniffing a triple-double (33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) and Harden adding 22 points and eight assists. Even without a suspended Trevor Ariza, the rotational glue held fast.
The Rockets opened strong, as Harden drained three threes in the first two minutes (in just his second game back from injury) and Paul dictated play effectively and had his three-ball working. The Warriors leaned on their bench for support amid dry starts from Steph Curry and Thompson. Everyone launched threes, Houston shot more free throws, nearly doubled the rebounding split but still went into halftime with a 17-point lead cut to seven.
Past playoff struggles aside, this Rockets team is cut from a different fabric, with credit due to Paul adding some toughness and supercharging the offense (past playoff struggles aside). But nearly all games against Golden State wind up close if you aren’t careful, and after all that, the Warriors rode Draymond Green (21 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and Kevin Durant (26, seven and five), Curry figured it out and they took the lead back with 10 minutes left. The back-and-forth was as sloppy as the rest of it, but no less entertaining.
With the Rockets up three and less than two minutes left, Harden was isolated with Curry in front of him and time expiring before stepping back to his right and confidently sealing the game from the right wing. He would block Curry on the subsequent possession to protect a six-point lead and the Warriors had to burn their last timeout with 33 seconds left because Nick Young fell down. This was the final meeting of the season between the teams, following Houston’s tight opening-night win and Golden State’s 10-point win on Jan. 4. The Rockets can at least eye the post-season with knowledge of their opponent.
As always, it’s tempting to conclude something when these teams clash, but let’s not do that and hope instead for a seven-game set to pore over in May. The Warriors are on an all-time great run, the Rockets as a whole are right up there this season and their recent meetings have been close. The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the first round of 2015's playoffs. These are the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses. There’s history and talent and lots and lots of points. If nothing else, Golden State and Houston are hurtling toward one another a little faster this time around.