Entries in James Harden (4)


The game was great, but down the stretch the Warriors were not

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant studied the final stat sheet and listened to the questions. “I thought both teams played great,” he said, as much to himself as to the media facing him.

That they did. It was just that the Houston Rockets played a little greater.

Give Durant credit. He was out there, in the middle, so to speak, making baskets, missing shots, running, leaping, falling and, with his teammates, losing.

And yet he was moved by more than the final result, the Houston Rockets defeating the Warriors 135-134 on a 3-point basket with one second left by, whom else, James Harden.

Say what you want, that the Dubs, who were up by 20 in the first minute of the third quarter, blew the game; that Harden with yet another triple double (44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) is unstoppable; that Golden State will be in trouble in the playoffs.

But if you love basketball, you have to appreciate what took place in the Dubs’ first home appearance of the new year, a meeting of the two teams who battled for seven games in last year’s Western Conference final — the change in momentum, the big baskets down the stretch, the reminder that in sports nothing is certain, even a huge second-half lead by the back-to-back NBA champions.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was less magnanimous than Durant. “I thought we had control of the game,” said Kerr. “We had a six-point lead with the ball and would have liked to have seen us get better shots.”

And have liked to have seen the Rockets, who now have won both games on the season schedule, get less successful shots.

“They came out swinging,” Kerr said of the Rockets after intermission. “They scored, I think, 18 points in the first four minutes. Our defense was really poor. Our offensive execution was really lacking.” 

And Harden, the bearded wonder who had his fifth straight 40-point game and second triple double of the week, was really, well, being James Harden.

“He just did what he always does,” said Kerr. “He’s the master of isolation, the step-back three and drawing fouls. I thought we did a really good job of keeping him off the line (Harden was 8-of-9 on free throws) for the most part. He made an impossible shot at the end. Just an incredible performance. Give him all the credit he deserves.”

And give the Warriors another loss in a meaningful game at the Oracle, where in some two-plus months they’ve flopped against Oklahoma City, Toronto, Milwaukee, the Lakers and now Houston.

“Down the stretch we were missing shots,” said Durant, who scored 26 points but only two in the third quarter. Steph Curry led the Warriors with 35, while Klay Thompson had 26.

“But I don’t think down the stretch is the reason we lost,” Durant added. “I just felt we let our foot off the gas a little bit in the third quarter. They knocked down some shots. But James shot 23 threes tonight. That’s a lot of three pointers.”

Including the game winner. “James wouldn’t have had to make that shot,” said Thompson, “if we just played the way we were supposed to in the second half. The ball movement got stagnant.”

For the Rockets, the ball moves in Harden’s hands.

“He can get any shot he wants,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “His threat is getting to the rim any time he wants. I don’t think we’ve seen the likes of this offense and the explosion he has.”

Harden got pummeled in the first quarter and left the game for a few minutes. “I was a little dizzy in the beginning,” he said, “but it’s a big-time game for us.”

During the day, broadcasters at ESPN debated whether the game was more important for the Warriors or for the Rockets, a bit silly but time-filling.

Asked why he’s so difficult to guard, Harden candidly pointed out, “I think it’s the separation I create, and once I create the separation you can’t really recover. You have to let me shoot or hit my elbow. There’s not much you can do about it.”

Except, as did Kevin Durant, contend that you played in a great game.


Warriors loss ‘shows where they are’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This was a prove-it game for the Warriors, a game that would show when the other team was hot — in this case the Houston Rockets, that frequent nemesis — the Dubs could be as tough as advertised, prepared and ready to show what was possible.

Or maybe impossible.

A 12-game winning streak was on the line, and maybe on the Warriors’ minds, but it ended Thursday night at the Oracle in front of a sellout crowd that was as disappointed as it was bewildered. How did this happen? And was it portentious?

The night and the game seemed to last forever, starting late at 7:52 p.m. because TNT wasn’t ready, and ending at 11:06. A double-overtime that had virtually everything: comebacks, Steph Curry fouling out, Draymond Green getting a flagrant foul, Kevin Durant scoring 39 points.

Everything except a Warriors win, the Rockets holding on, 132-127.

After all those relatively easy victories the past few weeks, this was a difficult loss, especially after building a four-point lead in the first OT.

“It kind of shows you where you are,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “It’s easy to execute when you are winning by a lot of points. Under pressure with a tough game, you’ve got to execute better.

“That’s on us and our staff to do a better job of getting our guys ready into some things that they will be comfortable with down the stretch.”

The Warriors are all too familiar with the Rockets, who each of the last two years they outlasted in the playoffs on the way to the finals. Particularly the sleight-of-hand of James Harden and the muscle of Trevor Ariza.

What they didn’t know was how two new additions, Ryan Anderson, the 6-foot-10 forward from Cal who had been with New Orleans, and Eric Gordon would fit in. Perfectly, it turned out.

Anderson is astute and alert, and shoots like a smaller man. He had 29 points, the same as Harden. The Rockets moved the ball beautifully and got key rebounds after an occasional missed shot.

Curry, meanwhile, was failing early. He had five points and three fouls at halftime. And although recovering enough to score 28 points, Steph was only 9-of-22 and 4-of-13 on threes.

“They did a good job of switching,” Kerr said of the Rockets. “They outplayed us. They deserved to win.”

Harsh words for Warriors fans who, with the team’s acquisition of Durant as a free agent, possibly believed the championship that got away in 2016 would return in 2017. The Dubs are now 16-3 and obviously vulnerable.

“We started the game off slow,” said Durant, who was 12-of-28, “and let them get some confidence. They got a lot of long rebounds.”

So after the Warriors would force a missed shot, Houston came back for another shot and didn’t miss. At one point, the Rockets would be up by 10. All the shouts of “Defense, defense,” from fans properly distressed by the game’s direction, didn’t help much.

“We did not play well,” Kerr said. “We got off to a horrible start. We didn’t move the ball very well. We had our moments, especially in the first overtime. We had a real cushion, and I thought we let it slip away when we had every opportunity to finish them off.”

But they couldn’t, and they didn’t.

“We can compete with anybody,” said Harden. He draws fouls — he was 11-for-11 from the line. He draws boos.

“It’s a huge win for us,” said Harden.

Not a huge loss for the Warriors, but a reminder there is more to the NBA than the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs.

“They make it tough,” said Durant of matching up with Houston. “They stretch you out, and they have James (Harden) handle the ball a lot, well all game. He’s good at making plays. They have shooters.”

Shooters who shot down the idea that the Warriors would just keep winning.


Warriors roll with the punches, roll over Rockets

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — These are the playoffs, when basketball changes from ballet to boxing, when defenses rule and physical play is not only tolerated it is expected. So when Patrick Beverley smacked Stephen Curry early on in Saturday’s first-round game between the Warriors and Houston Rockets and the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena booed and hollered, the men on the floor and bench all but shrugged.

“No, there was nothing dirty,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr responding to a question on how to explain the style. “It’s the playoffs. There was nothing dirty. Just two teams that want to win. So there were a few physical plays. So that’s to be expected.”

Also to be expected was a Warriors win — after all, the W’s were 3-0 this regular season against Houston and 11-1 over the last two seasons, playoffs included. Expectations were met in grand style, with the W’s, in arguably their best defensive performance in a year, building a 29-point lead and winning, 104-78.

Not to be expected was Stephen Curry twisting the right ankle that used to give him problems — the official description was “a tweak" — and for his own precaution being held out for all but three minutes of the second half. Despite Curry pleading with Kerr. “I was 0-for-3,” Curry said of his attempts to persuade the coach.

Where it mattered, on field goal attempts, he was 8 for 13 (5 of 7 on three-pointers) and so still ended up as the top scorer for either team with 24 points.

Game two of this best-of-seven series is Monday night at Oracle, and the only question is whether Curry, who was limping as he left the post-game interview room, will be ready. Kerr used the description “questionable,” a fall-back phrase of indecision — but the man himself said, “Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out.”

Time to exhale? Probably. Early on this year one might have said, “Time to McHale,” but Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach, was canned in early November and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff, who contended that Houston didn’t move around on offense when pressured by a great Warrior defense.

It was a physical game, yes, but it also was strange game. The Rockets’ James Harden, who was second in the NBA in scoring (29 points a game compared to Curry’s 30.1) and led in free throw attempts (he’s clever at making people foul him), had only 17 points and didn’t try a single, solitary foul shot, something that hadn’t happened since January 2015.

“Yeah,” said Kerr of Harden’s blank. “That’s what he does better than anybody in the league, get to the line, draw fouls. So I thought Klay (Thomson) and Andre (Iguodala) did a great job. Our bigs stayed vertical. They didn’t reach when (Harden) came into the paint.”

It’s a given in sports that defense wins, because it’s easier to keep the other team from scoring than to score yourself, to win a game 3-2 in baseball, 14-10 in football or, as the Warriors did Saturday, holding the opposition to under 80 points, the Rockets not even reaching the 20-point figure in three of the four quarters.

Kerr had said Friday he thought the Warriors were playing their best defense of the year, and so he wasn’t at all surprised when they jumped out to a 33-15 first-period lead, Houston making only six of 20 attempts, a pathetic 30 percent.

“I thought defense was excellent,” said the head coach. “We didn’t reach. We made them earn every point. We did have the brief moment when Steph went out and we lost our poise and lost our focus a little bit, but we quickly recovered.”

Curry had 16 in the first quarter (or one more than the entire Houston team), despite Beverley grabbing and shoving. When Curry shoved back it seemed there would be a fight — memories of Mike Riordan and Rick Barry in the 1975 finals — but a technical foul against each player ended that.

Curry, however, didn’t injure his ankle until just before halftime. “I just tried to change direction,” he said of what occurred. “Missed the shot and tried to get back on defense, and then slipped a little bit and felt it slip or tweak. That’s when the pain kind of came in. I was able to do a couple more possessions, and it started to get a little worse.”

Off he came. “As a competitor, I was ready to go back in,” he said.

He didn’t go back, and of course the post-game conversation dealt with the possibility of the Warriors having to play without the guy who was MVP last season and most likely will be again this season.

“Well, you lose the MVP of the NBA,” said Draymond Green, who some might say at times is the MVP of the Warriors, “it definitely changes your team, so there is some concern. Hopefully when we play again, he’ll be fine. If not, it’s the same mentality we’ve had throughout the year. He can’t go, next man up.”   

In other words, if you’ll pardon the expression, just keep punching along.


S.F. Examiner: Mysterious Harden bows out with abysmal (13 turnovers) night

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — There they were, the MVP and the almost MVP, hugging. For one man, Stephen Curry, it was congratulatory, and for the other, James Harden, it was comforting. The end had arrived for Harden and the Houston Rockets. There were no more games to play.

The Warriors, led by Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, had beaten the Rockets, 104-90, in the Western Conference Finals Wednesday night before a sellout crowd that sent cheers cascading down the tiers of Oracle Arena in ear-splitting glory. It is on to the finals for the golden men of Golden State. It is on to the summer, Houston.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner