OAKLAND, California – As Stephen Curry emphatically waved his arms to ignite the crowd and coached from the bench when he could do little else, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors’ supporting cast proved they can win on the playoff stage without their NBA MVP.
They would rather have him, of course, but the defending champions have believed in their depth all along. Golden State played short-handed down the stretch of the regular season on the way to a record 73 wins.
“We’ve relied on our depth all year, not just when Steph’s out,” Draymond Green said. “I think we’re the deepest team in the NBA.”
Thompson scored 34 points and dished out five assists and the Warriors held off the Houston Rockets 115-106 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series despite no Curry, sidelined because of an injured right ankle.
“Ahh, it’s so much easier without him out there. When Steph’s out there, his man just sags in the paint, he doesn’t move the ball, he’s a very selfish teammate,” cracked Thompson. “I’m just kidding, man, he’s the exact opposite of that. I think we showed it’s hard to fill that void. No one’s going to do it by themselves.”
Curry cut short his pregame warmup routine after appearing to be in discomfort as he was shooting while putting little pressure on the tender ankle.
Andre Iguodala, last year’s Finals MVP, added 18 points with four 3-pointers and Green had 12 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. He didn’t commit a turnover in 39 minutes, his longest stretch without one in the regular season or playoffs.
Now, Curry has until Thursday’s Game 3 in Houston to get healthy. But the Warriors aren’t going to push it with the game’s best player.
“We want to make sure Steph is right and that his foot is fine and healthy,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Fortunately we don’t play ’til Thursday and he’s got some time to get some treatment.”
James Harden had 28 points and 11 assists to lead the Rockets, losers of six straight and 14 of 15 to Golden State. He made 13 of 15 free throws after not attempting one in the opener.
Big man Marreese Speights hit a key momentum 3-pointer from the baseline with 8.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter to make it 86-79, and the deep, versatile Warriors showed they can win without Curry on the playoff stage just as everybody on the roster believed.
Golden State did it on New Year’s Eve on Houston’s home court and did it again Monday at rockin’ Oracle Arena.
Harden considered it a missed opportunity.
“Yeah, for sure. We just didn’t do enough to get a win,” he said.
Shaun Livingston, who left Sunday’s practice with an illness, had 16 points and six assists playing in Curry’s place.
After a 26-point victory in Game 1, the Warriors had to work a little harder in Game 2.
Dwight Howard’s dunk of an alley-oop pass with 6:54 left in the third pulled the Rockets within 71-67, but Golden State kept answering with timely baskets.
Kerr called for better ball movement, hard cuts and intensity on defense in Curry’s absence. For much of the game, the Warriors did those things well.
Kerr looked at more film from that Dec. 31 game in Houston the past couple of days after already having watched it before Curry’s latest injury.
On three occasions in the first half, Harden drew a foul beyond the 3-point line and sent the fans into fits. He missed 7 of 8 3-point tries and committed five turnovers.
“Every time we reached, we fouled him, and they were all fouls,” Kerr said.
But it was Thompson’s three free throws after interim Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s technical with 7:16 to play that helped seal this one. Livingston scored the next time down for a 99-86 lead.
Curry took the court some 90 minutes before tipoff and first went through his normal dribbling session before he started shooting, then the ankle became tender.
“It’s our turn to step up and carry him,” Green said.