Warriors lose out in trench warfare

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It has all changed. Maybe not to the Warriors. “I think the vibe in the locker room is really positive right now,” said Steph Curry. But surely to the thinking of the Houston Rockets, who sneered at the Oracle Disadvantage.

And maybe to the thinking of the fans and pro basketball as a whole.

The Rockets kept telling us they had built a team to beat the Warriors, a team to win an NBA championship. But not until Tuesday night did anyone truly believe it.

Not until they employed the tough defense and opportune offense that used to supposedly belong to the Warriors.

Not until they ended the Dubs’ 16-game home court playoff win streak.

Not until Houston withstood going scoreless in the game’s opening five minutes plus, then held the Warriors to a pathetic 12 points the final 12 minutes and won, 95-92.

This is the reality: The best-of-seven Western Conference finals are tied 2-2. This also is the reality: With the next game at Houston on Thursday and the Rockets seemingly in control, Game Six at Oakland on Saturday could be the Warriors' last of a season of disappointment.

Yes, we move too quickly. But so does the sport of pro basketball. Momentum swings are rapid and furious. We keep emphasizing the Warriors' depth, belaboring “Strength in Numbers,” but on Tuesday No. 9, Andre Iguodala, didn’t play because of a leg injury and No. 30, Steph Curry, played only seven minutes in the second quarter because of foul trouble.

The Warriors, after a great third quarter when they went in front 80-70, looked tired and confused in the fourth when they had four turnovers and missed 15 of 18 field goal attempts, including all six of their three-pointers, shooting 16.7 percent. That’s a reality that seems like a fantasy.

”Yeah,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr about exhaustion, “it definitely played a role.

“I thought we made a great push in the third quarter,” said Kerr, of the 12-minute stretch in which the Dubs outscored the Rockets 34-18 and regained the lead, “but we weren’t able to make many subs. We were going well, so we didn’t want to disrupt our rhythm. But our normal sub pattern was skewed anyway with Andre’s absence. I felt in the fourth quarter, we just ran out of gas.”

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant each went 45 minutes of the total 48, individual highs in a game that for the Warriors, who couldn’t stop Houston’s James Harden (30 points, 24 in the first half) and Chris Paul (27 points), was a psychological low.

One moment they’re one step from the NBA finals, the next they’re sitting around talking about what might have been.

And about the Rockets. “This game,” said Kerr, “was sort of trench warfare. It was just sort of everybody grinding it out, a lot of isolation (one on one). I guess this is the modern NBA.”

Wait. Weren’t the Warriors, the “Hampton Five,” the glitz and beauty of passing and well-screened jump shots, the modern NBA?

“The only way you can do this and win,” said Kerr, “is to have great one-on-one players. You have to have great defenders”

Like Durant and Curry? Like Green and Klay Thompson? Well, the Warriors had them. Durant, although just 9-of-24, scored 27 points. Curry, 10 of 26, scored 27. Green had 13 rebounds. What they didn’t have was Iguodala. Or, in the final frantic seconds, the ability to get off a good three-pointer to tie the score.

“Obviously, we won 65 games,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni before tipoff. “We knew we were good.”

They’re good and persistent, or is that redundant?

“It’s all about toughness right now,” D’Antoni said after the victory, in a way echoing Kerr’s words of trench warfare. ”I think there was great basketball on both sides, stretches of it. The rest of it is just gutting it out and finding a will, a way and a want.”

What the Warriors want is a third championship in four years, but now it looks less likely than it did a day ago.

“When you give yourself a lead like that,” Curry said of the 12-0 start, “it would help to sustain it and make the game as easy as possible ... But they’re a great team, and whether you extend the lead or not, it’s a 48-minute game, and we had plenty of chances to come down the stretch and win the game.”

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