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How The Warriors Finished The Rockets

Playing without injured star Kevin Durant and working with what appeared to be a rapidly thinning bench, you might have figured the Golden State Warriors would be in deep trouble if they saw a half in which Stephen Curry went scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. After all, while the Warriors entered Game 6 having compiled a 29-4 record in games when Durant sat and Curry played, those games involved Curry averaging 27.8 points.

But instead of finding themselves in trouble on Friday, the Warriors found themselves headed to the locker room at halftime tied with the Houston Rockets. They earned that halftime deadlock behind both a 3-point explosion from Klay Thompson and timely contributions from several of the same players who had seen their performances maligned earlier in the series. Then, Steph poured in 33 second-half points — including a career-high 23 in the fourth quarter — to send the Rockets home and the Warriors back to the Western Conference finals for the fifth consecutive season.

Thompson knocked down five threes during that first half, pouring in 21 of the Warriors’ 57 points. He scored only six points after the break, but the early burst was key in allowing his team to survive Curry’s frigid shooting. Not that this was anything out of the ordinary for Thompson — he has become something of a Game 6 specialist over the past several years, knocking down in excess of 52 percent of his 3-point tries in the Warriors’ seven Game 6s during the Steve Kerr era. This victory also pushed the Warriors’ record during that time to an incredible 95-9 (and 18-3 in the playoffs) in games when Thompson makes five or more shots from beyond the arc.

Thompson was not alone in buoying the Warriors while Curry struggled. Golden State’s bench players had been absolutely dreadful during this series, but in the first half of Game 6, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko, Andrew Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie actually came to play. That group of seven players combined for 20 points prior to halftime — more than they had collectively scored during any of the previous five games in this series.

Livingston finished the game with 11 points, marking just the fifth time all season he cracked double digits and the first time since the middle of January. Looney hammered the Rockets on the offensive glass, collecting 16.7 percent of available offensive boards while he was on the floor — a rate that would rank among the best in the league if he sustained it over a full season. His 14 points also marked the second-highest total of his playoff career, and Friday was only the third time he’s reached double digits during a postseason game. Cook didn’t score in the second half, but he dished out two extremely timely assists before the break and, late in the third quarter, set up Curry’s first 3-pointer of the game.

The Warriors also got incredibly valuable contributions from Andre Iguodala, who should somehow find a way to include the tape of this game on his application to the Basketball Hall of Fame, if such a thing is possible. Iguodala not only finished with 17 points, but he also knocked down five threes for the first time in six years. His most valuable contributions, though, came on defense, where he hounded James Harden into an 11-for-25 shooting line and came away with a steal on four of Harden’s five live-ball turnovers, including one that essentially sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. Iguodala was Golden State’s preferred defender on Harden throughout the series,1 and Game 6 was an object lesson in why.

Of course, all of those players’ contributions were merely the preamble to Chef Curry getting cooking in the second half. After going scoreless during the first half for the first time in 102 career playoff games, Steph had the most explosive second half of not just his own playoff career but of any player who had gone scoreless before halftime in the past 20 postseasons. Seemingly out of rhythm for most of the night, Curry didn’t really get going until he knocked down one of his classic relocation threes late in the third period. His next shot rimmed out, and a three-quarter-court heave at the end of the quarter came up just short, but he spent most of the rest of the game looking like the Stephen Curry we’ve come to know once he knocked down that corner three.

That Stephen Curry is a killer, and he absolutely killed the Rockets in the fourth quarter, racking up 23 points while shooting 6 of 8 from the field, 3 of 5 from three and 8 of 8 from the line.

Mostly, he shredded the Rockets out of the pick and roll. The Warriors had run a Curry-Draymond Green pick and roll 58 times during the first five games of the series, per Second Spectrum tracking data, for an average of 11.6 per game. They ran that action 10 times during the fourth quarter of Game 6 alone, and those plays resulted in 20 Warriors points, 15 of them from Curry himself. Driving layups, scoop floaters, step-back threes, hitting Green on the short roll so that he could make a 4-on-3 play coming downhill — Curry showed off the entire ball-screen repertoire down the stretch, and the Rockets simply had no answers for him.

Very few teams have had answers for Curry over the years, though the Rockets did hound him into some of his very worst playoff basketball ever during this series. Steph struggled in Games 1 and 2, but the Warriors still came out on top thanks largely to the brilliance of Durant and the under-heralded contributions of Green and Iguodala. Houston rebounded to tie the series by winning the next two games at home while Curry continued misfiring, but in both Game 5 and Game 6, the Rockets squandered opportunities to take advantage of his continued struggles until it was too late, and he managed to get going again. And when Curry gets going like that, the Warriors are near impossible to beat.

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Footnotes

  1. He’d been the defender of record on 47.5 percent of Harden’s possessions during Games 1 through 5, according to Second Spectrum tracking data on NBA.com. The next-closest player was Klay Thompson at 17.2 percent.

Jared Dubin is a New York writer and lawyer. He covers the NFL for CBS and the NBA elsewhere.

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