Warriors’ Game 6 Revival Keeps Series Alive Against the Rockets
OAKLAND, Calif. — Dire circumstances have turned the N.B.A.’s so-called superteam into a desperate team, but the Golden State Warriors are at least halfway to salvation after Saturday night. The league’s reigning champions — in a game they had to have — dug themselves out of a sizable early deficit with the sort of second-half flourish they are known for.
Taking advantage of the absence of Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, who suffered a hamstring injury toward the end of Thursday’s game, Golden State reinforced its reputation for inflicting third-quarter devastation and eventually ran out to a rousing 115-86 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to even this seesaw series at 3-3.
Golden State surrendered 39 points in the opening quarter and fell behind by as many as 17 points, only to gradually ratchet up the pace after halftime. The Warriors outscored Houston by 17 points in the decisive third quarter and by a crushing overall margin of 64-25 in the second half, led by their high-octane trio of Klay Thompson (35 points), Stephen Curry (29) and Kevin Durant (23).
Thompson drilled seven of his nine 3-pointers in the second half for the Warriors, who were also fueled by Houston’s 21 turnovers.
“We’re the best team in the world and the most fun team in the world to watch when we’re pushing that ball, getting defensive stops and making plays,” Thompson said.
The Warriors’ resurrection, mind you, is only half-complete. For the first time in this four-season run of rampant success, they are in a playoff series without home-court advantage. To secure a fourth successive trip to the N.B.A. finals, they must win a Game 7 in Houston on Monday night.
The Warriors have strung together two or more consecutive victories on 15 separate occasions this season. They will have to do so for the 16th time to save their season.
It is the first time since 1979 that both N.B.A. conference finals have been stretched to their seven-game limit. In that season, Seattle outlasted Phoenix and went on to defeat Washington in a rematch of the 1978 N.B.A. finals after the then-Bullets beat San Antonio in the East.
In Golden State’s favor, though, is the real possibility that Paul will not be able to play in the most meaningful game of his 13-season career.
Paul, 33, did travel to the Bay Area with his teammates and watched Saturday night’s defeat in uniform from the Houston bench. Unrealistic as it seems, given the nature of hamstring injuries and Paul’s age, Houston Coach Mike D’Antoni refused to rule out the possibility that Paul will find a way to get on the court for Game 7.
“All our doctors are with us,” D’Antoni said, explaining why Paul traveled for Game 6 after he had been ruled out.
“He can get the same type of treatment,” D’Antoni said. “Plus he doesn’t want to miss this. He’s worked his whole career to be here. He’s very responsible for us getting here, so he needs to be here.”
D’Antoni acknowledged that Paul is “devastated” by the setback and described the rest of the Rockets as “devastated for him.” Paul began this postseason as the league’s career leader in playoff games without making a trip to the conference finals; in the words of Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, he “pretty much willed” Houston to victory in Games 4 and 5.
“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said. “He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career. And it’s a shame.”
Without Paul, D’Antoni inserted Eric Gordon into the starting lineup and brought the ailing forward Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) back into the rotation. Gordon responded by making his first four 3-pointers and scoring a rugged 19 points, while Harden — who entered Game 6 having missed 20 consecutive 3-pointers — scored a team-high 32 points after missing his first two shots from long range.
But Houston gradually faded, with D’Antoni using only seven players until its deficit reached 20 points. The Warriors scored the first 11 points of the second half to climb out of a 61-51 hole and had seized an 84-77 lead entering the fourth quarter — helped along by Gordon missing three free throws.
The Warriors were also short-handed, with Andre Iguodala, the most valuable player in the 2015 N.B.A. finals, missing his third successive game with a lower leg contusion. Sympathy for Golden State’s plight is likely to be scarce, given Paul’s absence for Houston, but Golden State has clearly missed Iguodala’s settling nature and passing instincts against Houston’s unrelenting physicality.
Outplayed for much of the series by Gordon, Thompson answered when the Warriors needed him most. Of the team’s four All-Stars, he gets the least attention, but Thompson delivered a performance reminiscent of his heroics in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in 2016, when he scored 41 points with Golden State facing elimination against an Oklahoma City team featuring Durant.
“Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play. He’s so comfortable in his own skin. I think he just wants to go out there and hoop — and he doesn’t worry about much else. So the pressure doesn’t seem to bother him.”
The Rockets’ only solace in the wake of this second-half shredding: With a chance to clinch the franchise’s first N.B.A. finals berth since 1995, Game 7 is back on their floor.
“We knew this was hard,” D’Antoni said. “They’re champs. They’re going to come back fighting — and they did.
“It’s up to us to knock them out.”