James Harden wanted nothing to do with a Western Conference Finals sweep.
The Houston Rockets superstar put his team on his back with the season on the line and finished with an astounding 45 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks on the way to a 128-115 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors now lead the series, 3-1, and will have the opportunity to close Houston out at home in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted the Rockets made some history in the win:
Klay Thompson spearheaded Golden State's efforts in defeat with 24 points, but the most important moment of the game came in the second quarter when MVP Stephen Curry went down on a nasty fall. He left the game with a head contusion and ultimately returned in the second half, but the Warriors' season hung in the balance for a time as he lay on the floor.
As for Game 4, Houston clearly wasn't ready to go home Monday. The Rockets came out and scored 45 points in the first quarter alone on 17-of-22 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from three-point range. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out how incredible the 45-22 lead was given the opponent:
Warriors sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude described the scene, while ESPN Stats & Info found somewhat of a silver lining for Golden State fans:
Things got much worse for the Warriors when Curry took that terrifying fall and hit his head in the second quarter. Bleacher Report shared the play, while Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that it just wasn't the Warriors' night:
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Former MVP Steve Nash also weighed in on the moment:
While the Curry news was clearly the most critical development given Golden State's commanding 3-0 lead in the series, the fact that the Rockets carried a 69-59 lead into halftime even though the Warriors outscored them by 13 in the second quarter told most of the story.
Curry actually returned in the third quarter while the Warriors kept it close, but the Rockets were simply unstoppable from behind the three-point line, as Feigen noted:
The Rockets opened up a 99-84 lead after three quarters, thanks largely to Harden's performance. While the lefty was clearly the engine making the Rockets run, Josh Smith added 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting heading to the fourth quarter and prompted this reaction from Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press:
Of greater concern were Curry's continued struggles after returning to the contest. NBA analyst Nate Duncan commented on Curry's uncharacteristic play:
While the Rockets seemingly controlled the entire game, Golden State cut the lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter, and Matt Moore of CBSSports.com pointed out that the Rockets had something to worry about late:
The Warriors had multiple opportunities to cut even further into the deficit, but Harden answered with a 7-0 Houston run. The Rockets and Ethan Strauss of ESPN commented on the pivotal spurt:
That run virtually ended the game. The Warriors intentionally fouled Smith on a number of possessions, but they never truly threatened after Harden countered their early fourth-quarter spurt. Despite a 16-point hole with less than five minutes left, the Warriors still set a team record, per GSWStats:
ESPN Stats & Info indicated that Golden State wasn't the only team that drilled a number of three-pointers:
Every time the Warriors trimmed the deficit, something stopped the momentum. Draymond Green fouled out with less than four minutes remaining, and Gold-Onwude praised him for his efforts:
Without Green on the floor, Golden State had no answer for Harden on the defensive end. Harden drilled two monumental perimeter shots in the final two minutes and extended the lead and final margin of victory to 13.
Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals is Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET back in Golden State.
No team has overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series in the history of the league, but the Rockets do have some momentum after Monday's performance. It sounds cliche, but they must take it one step at a time because a single victory on the road in Game 5 would set them up with another home contest for the right to play in a decisive Game 7.
What's more, Curry's health has to be a concern moving forward. He simply didn't look like the player who won the 2014-15 MVP for extended stretches after he returned in the second half. The Rockets also were in Games 1 and 2 on the road before Golden State ultimately prevailed.
As for the Warriors, they must regroup and focus on the next contest.
That shouldn't be a problem based on coach Steve Kerr's comments, per Maria Guardado of NJ.com: "They know that the most important thing is just the next play. Keying in on competing and paying attention to all the little details, focusing on the mission and not the result, that's always been our mantra and it's especially true in moments like these. Just keep going, keep pushing."
That attitude will earn them a spot in the NBA Finals with one more victory.