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Warriors race past Rockets in West finals opener

By Reuters - May 15,2018 - Last updated at May 15,2018

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots over Houston Rockets guard James Harden during the Western conference finals of the 2018 NBA play-offs in Houston, Texas, on Monday (Reuters photo by Erik Williams)

Kevin Durant poured in a team-high 37 points and Klay Thompson chipped in 28 as the Golden State Warriors claimed the opener of the Western Conference finals and snatched home-court advantage with a frenetic 119-106 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday at Toyota Centre.

While Durant served as a midrange gunner, recording three rebounds and one assist, Thompson scorched Houston from the perimeter, hitting 6 of 15 3-point attempts. That tandem worked in concert whenever the Rockets mustered a rally, offsetting relatively quiet efforts from Stephen Curry (18 points, eight assists) and Draymond Green (five points, nine rebounds, nine assists).

“He’s one of the best scorers ever,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said of Durant. “I thought he was extremely good. But we can withstand that. We can’t withstand turning the ball over and giving up so many wide open threes.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, said: “We want to keep the ball moving. But obviously Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down and you just throw him the ball. He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on Earth. This is why anybody would want him on their team.

“You think about a couple years ago, and we’re in the finals and we couldn’t quite get over the hump. Kevin is the guy that puts you over the hump. I don’t know what you do to guard him. He can get any shot he wants.”

Green added two blocks and two steals to anchor the Golden State defence.

Durant and Thompson combined for 11 points while Golden State stretched a three-point lead to 76-70 midway through the third quarter. Durant then scored the final six points of the third before Thompson tallied the first seven of the fourth to provide the Warriors a working margin.

James Harden paced the Rockets with 41 points and seven assists while Chris Paul chipped in 23 points and 11 rebounds. However, excluding Eric Gordon, who scored 15 points off the bench, the Rockets received precious little from their role players. And with Golden State featuring their usual brand of ferocious half-court defence, the Rockets didn’t have nearly enough firepower.

The Warriors shot 52.5 per cent overall and outpaced the Rockets 18-3 in transition. Houston will host Game 2 on Wednesday night at Toyota Centre before the series shifts to Oakland, California.

“They did a really good job,” Harden said of the Warriors. “If you miss the shots or if you turn the basketball over, they’re out. They’re getting dunks, they’re getting threes. I’m not sure how many transition points they had, but it was too many. That’s what they thrive on. So we’ve got to do a better job of not turning the basketball over, taking better shots and getting back and matching up.

“There were a couple times where we didn’t guard anybody, and they got a dunk or an open three. That can’t happen.”

Harden and Durant were incendiary from the start, combining for 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the first quarter. Golden State needed to survive the early emotional salvo from the Rockets, with Houston dashing to a 12-4 lead behind eight points from Harden.

“We’re in the Western Conference finals. They are going to come out with a lot of energy,” Durant said. “We’re going to take that first punch and keep punching.”

The Rockets stretched the lead to 21-15 on a Clint Capela dunk after the Warriors were caught scrambling defensively.

“You’re not going to come in and just knock them out,” D’Antoni said. “There were too many times where we had mental lapses. We didn’t switch properly, turned the ball over and missed too many layups. We need to do a better job of staying up mentally.”

Golden State began to work their way back behind Durant, whose 3-pointer late in the first quarter cut the deficit to 25-22. Durant converted consecutive baskets midway through the second quarter to push Golden State to a lead. The Rockets responded with a 7-0 spurt, but the Warriors closed the half with a Nick Young 3-pointer for a 56-56 deadlock.

The Rockets struggled to maintain any offensive rhythm, finishing with 16 turnovers to undermine their best efforts. Golden State gave the ball away nine times.

Houston shot 45.9 per cent from the floor. Each team hit 13 3-pointers.

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