OAKLAND, Calif. — Finally, the basketball world got to witness the kind of classic it has been waiting all season to see in the highly anticipated Western Conference finals.
After the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets alternated double-digit wins in the first three games, the margin of victory soaring each time, Game 4 went down to the wire. And they’ll head back to Houston with the series tied after the Rockets scrapped their way to a 95-92 comeback win to stun the sellout Oracle Arena crowd and end the 16-game postseason win streak in Oakland.
The fourth quarter was far from the beautiful basketball expected from two of the best offensive teams in the history of the game. It was more like the 15th round of a fight between heavyweights gassed from throwing haymakers at each other all night.
The Warriors, a potential dynasty featuring three of the NBA’s premier scorers, managed to score a grand total of 12 points in the final frame. It ended with Stephen Curry, arguably the best shooter ever, missing a good look at a 3-pointer — a shot he failed to get off before the buzzer sounded anyway.
The Rockets’ defense, which general manager Daryl Morey made a priority of upgrading over the summer, came through with their season on the line. Nevertheless, it was a shocking dud down the stretch for the Warriors, particularly Curry, who was 1-of-8 from the floor in the final frame after carrying Golden State in the third quarter.
That Curry scoring flurry started with a wide-open 29-footer from the left wing midway through the third quarter. He swished a lead-changing, step-back 3 over Clint Capela on the Warriors’ next possession, the Oracle Arena crowd buzzing throughout the dazzling dribbling display and roaring when the ball splashed through the net. Draymond Green passed up an open look to feed Curry for a corner 3 the next trip. And then Curry sliced through the Rockets’ dizzied defense for a finger roll.
Just like that, the Warriors’ point guard uncorked 11 points in the span of 96 seconds. Curry had 17 in the quarter, matching the Rockets’ total and falling a point shy of his slump-busting, sizzling Game 3 third quarter. And Golden State held a double-digit lead, seemingly putting Houston on the canvas.
But the Rockets proved they could fight back after an awful first five minutes of the game. It actually took 5:17 for Houston’s historically high-powered offense to put any points on the board, as the defending champion Warriors roared out of the gates with a dozen-zilch run while the Rockets sputtered to eight shots and a couple of turnovers in their first 10 possessions.
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As fans across the country reached for their remote controls, the probable MVP came to the Rockets’ rescue. Harden’s fast-break layup finally put Houston on the scoreboard, and he kept getting buckets to get the Rockets back in the game, putting up 24 of his 30 points in the first half.
Paul, the nine-time All-Star who came to Houston to help Harden dethrone the Warriors, snapped out of his funk late in the first half. Paul had 12 of his 27 points during the Rockets’ 16-5 run to close the quarter and give Houston a 53-46 halftime lead.
And while Curry and the Warriors’ counterpunches in the third quarter led to a double-digit deficit for the Rockets, Houston had no plans of going down easy.
This series, tied at 2-2, still has a chance to live up to the hype.