Curry and Durant's Big Third Quarter Give Warriors Fourth Straight NBA Finals Matchup with Cavaliers
Trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half of Game 7 versus the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors rode the back of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in the third quarter to help lead them to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance to face the Cleveland Cavaliers yet again. A combination of better ball security, finding their stroke on the offensive end, and poor shooting by the Rockets helped the Warriors pull off a second half come-from-behind victory by a final of 101-92.
For the Rockets, it was a year to remember that came up just short of an NBA Finals appearance. However, the injury to Chris Paul at the end of Game 5 proved to be costly as they severely missed his services on the floor in Games 6 and 7. When on the floor, Paul and the Rockets proved that they could matchup well against the Warriors if not overtake them in a best of seven series. But unfortunately for them, they will have to wait another season to prove it while Golden State advances in the NBA Finals.
The Rockets came out fast in Game 7 forcing the Warriors to commit two turnovers and four fouls within the first two minutes, leading to four free throws and a 4-0 lead. Within the first four minutes, both teams were playing sloppy to the tune of four turnovers from Houston and three from Golden State. Additionally, Klay Thompson was forced to the bench as well after committing three fouls in those four minutes, hampering the Warriors early when it came to long-range shooters. Houston took advantage of the Warriors foul troubles and lineup changes, going on an 11-2 run which featured many inside opportunities as well as three-pointers. Being in the bonus early, the Rockets were incredibly aggressive going after rebounds for second and even third chance shots in the first while the Warriors struggled on the glass. By the end of the first, both teams were shooting at 35% or less from the field and James Harden had 14 of Houston's 24 points. The free throw line was a struggle for both teams with Kevin Durant going 3-for-6 from the line for Golden State and Houston finishing 6-for-9 after a 4-for-4 start. The Warriors kept this game close in the early by utilizing Houston's five turnovers to the tune of nine points, but their six turnovers in the first led to seven Houston points. A start that was sloppy for both, but found the Rockets in front 24-19 after one.
As the second quarter got underway, the Rockets used a 12-2 run to pull ahead by 13 on the Warriors while Golden State continued to struggle shooting the three ball. The Warriors, who are known for their three-point shooters went 2-for-13 to begin the game from three-point range while Houston went 6-for-14. The Rockets dominated the paint in the second, outscoring Golden State 22-6 in the quarter from inside. However, the Warriors began to find their stroke from three as the half wore on, they finished the half going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. In the half, the Warriors committed 10 turnovers which is the kind of sloppy play a team cannot afford to have in a playoff game, let alone in a half while facing elimination in a Game 7. On the other side, the Rockets were getting production out Eric Gordon and Clint Capela in the half to help balance the offensive attack. After a 14 point first for James Harden, he put up just four points in the second quarter while Capela and Gordon helped lead the charge. They both finished the half with 14 points while Capela was 7-for-8 from the field leading the Rockets to an 11-point advantage heading into the halftime break.
After a first half like that, it looked like the Rockets had effectively stifled the Warriors and found a recipe for success to beat them. But like all season, Golden State came out with one of their third quarter surges that would get them right back in the game. Leading the way for the Warriors was Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant who combined for 24 points in the third quarter alone. After exchanging a few buckets, a 12-3 run by Golden State helped bring them within four of the Rockets, 59-55. Following a dunk by Clint Capela to put the Rockets back up six, the Warriors manufactured a 9-0 run capped off by a Curry three to give themselves a 64-61 lead. Including that three to give the Warriors the lead, Curry went on to score the Warriors next 11 points to give them a nine point edge as the third was winding down. In the quarter, Golden State went 7-for-12 from three while Houston struggled going 0-for-14 from long range. This all added up to a 76-69 lead for the Warriors with the final 12 minutes still to play.
Both teams continued to match each other in the fourth with the Warriors unable to pull away and the Rockets unable to close the gap. However, a 7-0 run by Houston helped bring them within six with 5:07 still to play. That run featured a three-pointer from P.J. Tucker to help snap the Rockets record setting 27 consecutive missed threes which extended back to the first half. Despite the run, Golden State continued to respond to any attempt Houston made at a comeback, finishing them off, and winning Game 7 on the road by a final of 101-92.
Like the Celtics the night before, the Rockets shot themselves out of this Game 7 as well. After making 6 of their first 14 shots from three, they went cold making just 1 of their next 30 to finish the game 7-for-44 from long range. They also struggled from the free throw line as well, missing nine free throws in the game to go 13-for-22 from the charity stripe. Like I said for the Eastern Conference Final Game 7: "While no team is expected to make every shot from the stripe, missing them can be crucial upon reflection at the end of a game" which is the case with the Rockets who lost by a margin of nine. Per usual, the Rockets got great production from James Harden who went for 32 points, including 14 in the second half to go along with his 6 rebounds and 6 assists. More surprisingly was Clint Capela, he fell a rebound short of a playoff double-double as he scored 20 points and hauled in nine rebounds. Eric Gordon was also worth noting as he finished Game 7 with 23 points, but was an abysmal 2-for-12 from three.
As for the Warriors, their stars came alive at just the right time and their three-point shooting improved as the game went on. As mentioned before, they started 2-for-13 from three in this game, but finished 16-for-39 after shooting 53.8% from three in the second half. The tandem of Curry and Durant in the third quarter helped get the Warriors back in the game and take control. Durant finished the game with a team-high 35 points while Curry fell a rebound short of a triple-double as he went for 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 assists. While it goes without question the injury to Chris Paul very well had an effect on the Rockets chances, they still had two cracks to take out the Warriors and faltered in the second half both times.
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