How dominant are the Golden State Warriors? Well, despite receiving 35 points from Stephen Curry against the Houston Rockets in Tuesday’s Western Conference Finals rematch, they didn’t even need him during the most important stretch of their 123-110 victory.
Golden State and Houston started the fourth quarter tied at 93, but role players such as Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston opened the final 12 minutes with a 17-5 run while Curry rested on the bench. Suddenly, it was 110-98 in favor of the Warriors, and the Rockets became the footnote on a historical evening.
SportsCenter highlighted the historical relevance of Tuesday's win:
The Warriors take down the Rockets, 123-110, reaching the best start through 51 games in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/x8dTRPnxM0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 10, 2016
While he may have been on the bench for the fourth-quarter's opening stretch, Curry led the way with 35 points, nine assists, five rebounds and seven three-pointers. In all, six Warriors finished in double figures, including Barnes, who scored 19 and posted a team-high plus-minus of plus-20, per ESPN.com.
On the other side, James Harden scored 37 points and kept the Rockets within arm's reach for most of the game, but it was ultimately to no avail against the defending champs. ESPN Stats & Info provided some type of solace for Harden:
James Harden and Steph Curry remain tied for the most 30-point games this season, both with their 23rd such game tonight.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 10, 2016
The Warriors looked like they were well on their way to their 24th home win in 24 tries this season during the first quarter. They jumped all over the Rockets and established a 42-27 lead after 12 minutes. Curry drilled five three-pointers and scored 19 points in the opening quarter alone, and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle put the early performance into perspective:
Warriors 42, Rockets 27 after 1. Most points scored against Rockets in a quarter this season. GS shoots 68 %; 60 % on 3s. Harden scoreless.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) February 10, 2016
ESPN Stats & Info shared a visual of the offensive outburst:
However, the Rockets crawled back in the second quarter and trimmed the lead to 69-66 by halftime. SportsCenter noted Curry wasn't receiving much help from beyond the arc:
At the half Steph Curry has 26 Pts and is 6-of-7 from 3-point. The rest of the Warriors are 1-of-8 from 3-point. pic.twitter.com/hp0ZYPb6s0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 10, 2016
Houston finally took the lead early in the third quarter, and Ethan Strauss of ESPN acknowledged it was unfamiliar territory for the home team:
Now the Rockets lead. First time the Warriors have trailed in a 2nd half in 9 games— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) February 10, 2016
Still, that lead was short-lived because Curry was making ridiculous plays like this one, via the NBA:
Houston answered Golden State's spurt with a run of its own, and Trevor Ariza drilled a three-pointer from the corner with 5:18 left in the third quarter to give his team an 81-77 lead. Then, the Warriors played like, well, the Warriors, turning in one of the most incredible plays of the season.
Curry came up with the steal and gave it to Draymond Green, who then passed it right back to the reigning MVP. Curry flipped it behind his back to Iguodala, who then lobbed it up to Leandro Barbosa. The NBA shared the highlight in all of its glory:
Robert Mays of Sports Illustrated reacted to the sequence:
Steph just violated space-time again. There's a deity somewhere that has to annoyed by now.— Robert Mays (@robertmays) February 10, 2016
Houston continued to trade punches with the Warriors, and the teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 93. Harden was doing the best he could to keep his team in it, as the NBA on TNT passed along:
Matt Moore of CBS Sports weighed in on Houston's overall approach:
I actually like seeing the Rockets this upset with calls. They actually GIVE a damn.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 10, 2016
The Warriors scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, six of which came from three-pointers from Barnes and Iguodala. That led Nate Duncan of The Cauldron to point out why Golden State is such a problem for opponents:
Harden also back now after a VERY brief rest. GSW gets this vs. every team now, stars playing way more mins than normal.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 10, 2016
Curry wasn't the only guard who could electrify the crowd with his passing, as the Warriors captured:
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News spelled out the doom for the Rockets:
Warriors were +12 in the minutes Curry sat to start the fourth. They're almost impossible to beat when that happens.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 10, 2016
The Rockets remained within striking distance at 112-103 with less than 3:30 remaining, but the fact Curry actually air-balled a three seemed to bother the fans more than the visitors hanging around. Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated provided some advice:
A Steph Curry airball, go hug your children— Jeremy Woo (@Jeremy_Woo) February 10, 2016
Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group provided an explanation for the shot and the cold shooting of Klay Thompson, who missed all seven of his attempts from three-point range Tuesday:
Curry and Thompson are waaaay off ... Rockets defensive pressure is a factor. Even when they are open, they don't feel so open— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 10, 2016
Even with the solid Houston defense, Golden State simply had too many weapons. Green notched an assist and basket in back-to-back possessions, and just like that, it was 116-103 with 2:10 left. From there, Golden State closed out the 123-110 victory and added yet another win to its 47-4 total.
The Warriors are 47-4, and the question of whether they will finish with a better record than the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-10 mark will be one of the regular season's most predominant storylines from here on out.
They face a critical stretch following Tuesday's win, with a seven-game road trip that includes stops against the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder. No team in league history has gone a perfect 7-of-7 on a seven-game trip, although Golden State missed by just one win earlier this season.
The Warriors certainly don't have to be the first to do so, given their six-loss cushion before they reach double-digit losses, but they can ill afford to lose multiple contests before March if they want to break the Bulls' record. After all, they still have three games remaining against the San Antonio Spurs, including two in the final four games of the season.
As for the 27-27 Rockets, they are now only 0.5 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers in the race for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed.
Tuesday's contest was the first of a five-game road trip against Western Conference foes that includes two critical trips to Portland. It is too early to be scoreboard-watching at this point of the season, but the Rockets could find themselves in a difficult position if they don't manage to win a couple of these upcoming road tilts, especially against the Trail Blazers.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr praised starting center Andrew Bogut after the victory, saying he was “phenomenal,” per Strauss. Bogut finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and three steals, asserting his will down low throughout the night.
However, Kerr’s postgame press conference was cut short because he was feeling ill, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. Kerr did say the “All-Star break rest will be important,” per Janie McCauley of the Associated Press.
As for the Rockets, interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, “This is by far the best team in the NBA right now,” when talking about the Warriors, per Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The discussion may be whether this is the best team in NBA history when the season comes to a close.