Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson Lead Warriors' Comeback vs. Rockets to Force Game 7

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after being called for a foul against the Houston Rockets during Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors, slow start and all, are taking the Houston Rockets the distance. 

Despite trailing by 17 points after the first quarter, the Warriors produced a vintage third-quarter response and defeated the Rockets, 115-86, at Oracle Arena on Friday night to stretch the Western Conference Finals to a Game 7. 

Klay Thompson (35 points), Stephen Curry (29 points) and Kevin Durant (23 points) did the heavy lifting for Golden State, while James Harden (32 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) did all he could to try to keep the Rockets afloat with Chris Paul sidelined because of a sore right hamstring. 

Warriors Respond to Biggest Challenge Yet

The Kevin Durant era in the Bay Area hasn't been defined by adversity, to say the least. 

The Warriors coasted through the 2017 postseason with a 16-1 record, and they needed a total of 10 games to dispatch the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans in the first two rounds this year. 

The Rockets, though, have posed a different challenge entirely. That much was clear in Game 4 at Oracle Arena, and it was clear again Thursday at Toyota Center when the Rockets won Game 5. 

And after erupting for 39 points in the first quarter of Game 6, the Rockets looked like the aggressors again while the Warriors scrambled for answers on both ends. 

At that point, it would have been easy for Golden State to panic. 

But facing their first elimination game since the 2016 Finals, the defending champions showed some serious mental fortitude and responded by outscoring the Rockets, 93-47, over the final 36 minutes. 

And in vintage fashion, Curry (12-of-23 from the field, 5-of-14 from three) and Thompson led the charge as they channeled their early Splash Brother days with threes galore to bury a Rockets team that didn't have the legs to keep pace.  

Thompson, in particular, was sensational and went 9-of-14 from three in a performance reminiscent of his Game 6 effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. 

Playing through those two, Golden State's energy spiked in a way it simply couldn't in earlier games that devolved into isolation-heavy slugfests against Houston's switch-happy defense. 

With a fresh reminder of how electric they can be, it's on the Warriors to recreate that eruption in Game 7 to put the finishing touches on their fourth straight trip to the Finals. 

Rockets Need MVP-Type Performance From Harden in Game 7 

Come June, James Harden will likely have the 2017-18 MVP Award stationed on his mantle.  

But in order to place a shiny new championship ring next to that hardware, he's going to have to come up with the signature postseason performance that's long been missing as a line item on his otherwise pristine resume. 

Harden appeared to be working his way toward that moment Saturday when he had 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds at halftime. However, the Rockets collectively ran out of steam in the second half and Harden didn't have much help in the playmaking department with Paul sidelined. 

Now the pressure is on. 

And sure, that might be unfair to Harden considering the Rockets are being forced to adjust on the fly and adapt under a trying set of circumstances. 

But in a league where legacies are measured by clutch performances in the brightest spotlights, Harden has a golden opportunity in front of him to defy the odds and solidify himself as a giant slayer. 

Consider the stage set for a historic night. 

Rockets' Obsession With Warriors to Face Biggest Test 

In December, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN's Ryen Russillo the Rockets had a singular goal: Figuring out how to take down the Warriors. 

"It's the only thing we think about," he said. "I think I'm not supposed to say that, but we're basically obsessed with 'How do we beat the Warriors?'"

In Game 7, they will have their chance to do just that. 

While Game 6 ended on a deflating note considering Harden, Eric Gordon (19 points) and Trevor Ariza (14 points) were all scalding hot early, the Rockets know they have the personnel and scheme necessary to pester the Warriors to the point of frustration and discombobulation. 

Not having Paul—whose status for Game 7 is still unclear—will shrink their margin of error, to be sure. 

But with a boisterous home crowd behind them, there's a real chance the Rockets could parlay a season-long obsession into a euphoric explosion when the final buzzer sounds Monday night. 

What's Next? 

Another Game 7. After the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers battle for an Eastern Conference title Sunday night, the Rockets and Warriors will hit the floor Monday in Houston at 9 p.m. ET to sort out Western Conference bragging rights. 

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