Golden State take lead over Houston in West finals

Jay Asser 09:10 21/05/2015
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Match-winner: Steph Curry.

The Houston Rockets were in the driver’s seat until the Golden State Warriors broke out their secret weapon, which isn’t much of a secret: their small-ball lineup.

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After falling into a 16-point hole in the second quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at home on Tuesday night, Golden State’s use of a small, but rangy line-up turned the contest around as the Warriors won 110-106.

“I think the way the game was going, we were not faring very well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said as his squad improved to 17-14 this season when trailing by at least 10 points.

“Generally speaking, that line-up gives us a lot of energy and good offensive punch.”

With 6:28 remaining in the first half and Golden State down 14, Kerr introduced Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green at centre.

Despite going against Dwight Howard – who stands 10cm taller – Green didn’t allow the Houston big man to score for the rest of the half from that point on, while the offence erased the deficit in just four minutes, 45 seconds.

“When you try to keep a big in against our small line-up, it’s rough,” Green said. “Because we go into a pick-and-roll with myself and Steph, and if they trap or stay high, try to get in the pocket and make plays out of it.

“They struggled a bit with the small line-up when they were big with Dwight. That’s what kind of changed the game for us.”

Howard couldn’t get much going throughout the game, finishing with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting and five turnovers. He played 26 minutes and suffered a knee injury in the first quarter when team-mate Josh Smith rolled onto his leg after a missed shot.

“It’s very painful,” Howard said. “I tried to play it off as much as possible, but I couldn’t give my teammates what I needed to give them.”

The Rockets centre was instrumental in their series comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round, in which he averaged 17.6 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

Whether he’s at less than full-strength due to the injury or neutralised by Golden State’s small-ball attack, Howard could struggle to have the same impact this series.

In the match-up of this season’s MVP favourites, James Harden kept Houston afloat with a near triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, but Houston couldn’t slow down Curry.

The Warriors point guard splashed 6-of-11 from long range for 34 points, giving trouble to the variety of Rockets defenders thrown on him.

Houston are now winless in five meetings with Golden State this year, while the Warriors moved to 44-3 this season at home.

Game 2 will again be at Oracle Arena on Thursday night (+05:00) before the series shifts to Houston for Game 3 and 4.

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