The Golden State Warriors struggled to put away the overmatched Miami Heat for most of Tuesday's game at Oracle Arena but used a strong second half to finish a 107-95 victory.
Golden State outscored Miami by 13 after halftime and closed the contest on an extended 22-13 run after leading by just three at 85-82 with less than seven minutes left. The Warriors moved to 33-6 overall and 17-3 at home, while the Heat dropped to 11-29 and 1-9 in their last 10 games.
The Warriors announced they were without guard Klay Thompson because of rest, which meant they needed their other stars to carry the load.
Kevin Durant responded with 28 points and eight rebounds, while Stephen Curry nearly tallied a triple-double with 24 points, nine assists and eight rebounds despite shooting just 8-of-21 from the field. Draymond Green added 13 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks, and the Warriors as a whole hit 11 three-pointers.
As for Miami, Hassan Whiteside led the way with 28 points and 20 boards while shooting 13-of-17 from the floor. The Heat said the big man passed Shaquille O'Neal for 11th on the team's all-time rebounding list and became the fastest Miami player to surpass 500 rebounds in one season.
Whiteside was dominant down low, but the Heat shot an abysmal 6-of-30 from three-point range (20 percent) and couldn't match Golden State on the perimeter.
Despite the eventual loss, the Heat jumped out to a 20-11 lead with a Goran Dragic basket. Miami also dictated the opening tone on the defensive side and forced Durant to miss his first five shots.
NBA analyst Nate Duncan pointed out Warriors head coach Steve Kerr used Curry and Durant for a few extra minutes during the slow start:
Nate Duncan @NateDuncanNBA
Kerr's rotation changed up without Klay, KD and Steph have both played first 9 mins of the Q2017-1-11 03:58:07
Golden State battled back to tie the game at 27, but James Johnson ended the first quarter in style with a buzzer-beating dunk over Curry to give the Heat the 29-27 advantage. Miami shot 52 percent in the opening quarter and didn't trail after falling behind 2-0. NBA.com showed Johnson's epic dunk:
It didn't take long for the Warriors to bounce back in the second. Andre Iguodala scored in transition off Green's outlet, and Ian Clark drilled a three as part of a 13-0 spurt that pushed the advantage to nine.
Miami didn't fold and trimmed the deficit to two with a Dragic layup and Whiteside basket. The Heat were enforcing their will down low to stay in the game, and Turner Sports noted they had 34 points in the paint to Golden State's 20 at that point.
Tyler Johnson then hit a three to give the Heat the lead before they took a 54-53 advantage into the halftime locker rooms after an eventful final two seconds. Wayne Ellington hit three free throws after drawing a foul on Patrick McCaw, but David West launched a full-court inbounds to Green, who drew a foul and hit two free throws before the buzzer.
It gave the Warriors momentum, but they were struggling to stop Whiteside. He posted a double-double in the first half with 16 points and 10 boards and also sent a message at the rim, via NBA.com:
Both teams started slowly on offense in the third quarter, but a Green dunk and Durant layup on a well-placed Curry assist gave the Warriors the 64-58 lead and improved flow after a choppy sequence.
As was the case for most of the game, the Heat didn't go away and climbed to within three with a Tyler Johnson three-pointer. However, the Warriors closed the third quarter on a 10-2 run to extend their 69-66 lead to 79-68 and create some breathing room.
One reason they outscored the Heat by 12 in the third was a renewed focus on stopping Whiteside, who didn't score and attempted just one shot in the quarter, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.
To the Heat's credit, they didn't fold and directed their defensive attention at Curry and Durant early in the fourth. That forced open misses from Iguodala and West, and two straight Whiteside baskets trimmed the lead to five at 85-80 with less than eight minutes left.
Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel reflected on the Miami attack:
Ira Winderman @IraHeatBeat
Heat really finding their rhythm with Whiteside. Fun to watch no matter the score.2017-1-11 05:32:05
Just when it looked as if the Heat would challenge down the stretch trailing 85-82, the Warriors gradually pulled away and extended the lead to double digits at 96-86 with a Curry three. Dragic answered with a three, but Durant drilled a mid-range jumper to push the advantage back to nine with just more than two minutes left.
Curry's running layup in the lane all but ended it, and Iguodala's dunk in transition after Zaza Pachulia's diving steal was the exclamation point.
Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News shared some of Kerr's postgame comments:
Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater
Steve Kerr on Andre Iguodala's play + more postgame tonight https://t.co/ngKVjRc2zc2017-1-11 06:22:22
Durant reflected on Thompson's absence, per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle: "We definitely missed him. Hopefully he’s rested up and ready for the next game."
Winderman passed along a video of Whiteside's postgame comments where he said his teammates "made it easier for me" with their passing and ability to penetrate inside the paint.
The Warriors have three more home games in a row against the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder. While the clash with Oklahoma City carries Western Conference playoff implications, the NBA Finals rematch against the Cavaliers on Monday will draw the most headlines, especially since Cleveland won the first matchup this season on Christmas Day.
The Heat are at the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday before a four-game homestand. Despite a solid showing on Tuesday, they are just trying to build any momentum at this point after a dismal start to the season.