Even without NBA scoring leader James Harden, the Houston Rockets took it to Golden State from the very start.
Eric Gordon scored 25 points with four 3-pointers, Chris Paul converted two free throws with 1:08 left on the way to 23 and the Rockets outplayed the Warriors without the ill Harden for an 118-112 victory Saturday night.
Stephen Curry’s 3-pointer with 1:57 to play pulled the Warriors to 114-108 and his two free throws at 1:26 made it a four-point game before Houston came through at the line.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points and Curry added 25 with five 3s, nine rebounds and seven assists, but the Warriors had their five-game home winning streak snapped in a matchup of West powers who met in the 2018 Western Conference finals, which Golden State won in seven games.
“You can come in here and win on a Monday night in February or a Tuesday night in November or December,” Paul said. “But in the playoffs is when you have to beat a team four out of seven times. It’s great tonight that we won this but in two days y’all will forget this. We all will.”
Early in the fourth, Golden State’s Draymond Green exited the game with a sprained left ankle after grabbing at his foot in clear pain from stepping on teammate DeMarcus Cousins’ foot.
There wasn’t an immediate update on Green, who Curry said “was in good spirits after the game so I’m assuming it’s not anything serious.”
“He’ll be back for the playoffs. That’s the only thing we worry about here, right?” Durant said.
Paul handed out 11 of his season-high 17 assists in the first half to reach 9,000 for his career, helping Houston avoid a third straight road loss.
Cousins notched his third straight double-double with 13 points and a season-best 14 rebounds, while Klay Thompson had 20 points and six assists.
Curry’s 3 in the final 30 seconds of the first half and a jumper to beat the buzzer by Andre Iguodala got Golden State to 61-54 at halftime after the two-time defending champions trailed by 20.
While Harden also has a strained neck, coach Mike D’Antoni said the reigning MVP probably could have played through that.
Harden hurt the neck when he got hit during a practice leading up to Thursday’s road loss to the Lakers and woke up sore the next day.
“He might’ve played even with a sore neck. He had a little touch of the flu. It was a combination of everything,” D’Antoni said.
In the Rockets’ last visit to Oracle Arena, Harden hit a contested 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left in a 135-134 overtime win on Jan. 3 in which he finished with a triple-double and his fifth straight 40-point game. He was 13 for 32 with 10 3s.
Kenneth Faried started in Harden’s place and delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds. Clint Capela grabbed 15 boards.
The Warriors, who held off Sacramento 125-123 on Thursday night, began 9 for 32 — 3 of 12 on 3s — and didn’t lead for the first time until Curry’s layup at the 9:54 mark of the third. Curry was 5 for 11 from deep.
“Right from the start they played harder and smarter than we did,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Much like last time, Golden State’s biggest stars missed key shots when it mattered. The Warriors dug themselves an immediate hole, falling behind 15-0 before consecutive 3s by Thompson and Curry.
They went 14 of 37 on 3s in last month’s matchup, with Curry 5 for 15 and Durant 1 of 5. After that loss, the Warriors won 11 straight.
“As a whole our energy was just bad and our attention to detail in those first six minutes,” Curry said. “Yeah, we’ve got some stuff to work on. We know we’re not playing our best even through running off a lot of wins in that last little stretch. We know who we are. We’ve just got to get to that point.”
Of his milestone, Paul called it “an honor and a privilege.”
“When you get assists, I’ve got the easy part. I just pass it,” he said. “The other guys are the ones who have to make the shots.”
Rockets: Harden, who missed three games in the opening month with a strained left hamstring, is averaging an NBA-best 36.5 points. Houston is 2-2 in games without him this season after going 6-4 with him out last season. … Houston held a 48-47 rebounding edge in the January win and 48-26 this time.
Warriors: Cousins had six of his team’s 17 turnovers and picked up a technical. … Golden State shot 42 for 90, 14 of 36 on 3s. … The Warriors couldn’t match their six-game home winning streak from Oct. 16-Nov. 11. … Reserve guard Shaun Livingston rejoined the team after welcoming another daughter, Jonah Jazmine, born Thursday. He received an ovation at practice Friday, Kerr said.
Rockets: Host Atlanta on Monday night.
Warriors: Begin a four-game East Coast road trip at Charlotte on Monday night.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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