The Washington Post

Houston rally has Golden St. on brink



houston — For the better part of two seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been on cruise control. They waltzed through the playoffs last year in one of the dominant postseason performanc­es of all time, winning their second title in three seasons with just one postseason loss.

Many expected a similar display this postseason. The Houston Rockets have other ideas, and after dealing the defending champs a 98-94 loss in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, the Warriors find themselves, stunningly, on the brink of eliminatio­n.

For the second straight game, the Rockets outplayed the Warriors in the fourth quarter, this time winning the

final 12 minutes by a 27-22 margin. Golden State will return home for Saturday’s Game 6 trailing the best-of-seven series 3-2.

The Warriors find themselves in this position following a frenetic final two minutes that saw the game devolve into a series of mistakes and one key player — Houston’s Chris Paul — being knocked out of the game — and possibly the remainder of the series — with a hamstring injury.

As a second half that saw 16 lead changes and nine ties dragged on, the Rockets held a 95-94 lead with 1:21 remaining after Houston’s Eric Gordon and Golden State’s Draymond Green exchanged three-pointers. Then Paul tried to put up a shot in the lane that missed, and he fell to the ground grabbing at his leg.

With Paul prone on the floor, Green pushed the ball upcourt, knowing his team had a man advantage. The ball found its way into the hands of Quinn Cook, the former DeMatha star who started the season in the G League. Cook, who frankly looked terrified to be on the court in such a situation, had so much time that he bobbled the ball twice before eventually corralling it. With no one within several feet of him, he let fire an off-target three-pointer.

Another Rockets miss at the other end, this time by Harden, led to a timeout for Golden State, which had a chance to take the lead while Paul watched from the bench. But Stephen Curry’s runner on the right side missed, and Houston’s Trevor Ariza grabbed the rebound.

Ariza was immediatel­y fouled but made just 1 of 2 free throws — giving Golden State the ball, with a chance to bring it the length of the floor, with 6.7 seconds remaining. But after Curry took the inbounds pass, he threw it ahead to Green — who simply dropped the ball for Golden State’s 18th and final turnover.

Houston’s fans went home happy, albeit with no small amount of concern about Paul’s hamstring. The all-star guard was seen limping slowly into the locker room after the game. His status for Game 6 remains in question.

Gordon led Houston with 24 points off the bench, while Paul had 20 — 18 of which came in the second half — to go with seven rebounds and six assists. Harden had 19 points and four assists but shot 5 for 21 overall, including a staggering 0 for 11 from beyond the arc.

Golden State, however, couldn’t take advantage. Kevin Durant led Golden State with 29 points but settled for too many isolations, taking the Warriors out of their offense. The Warriors also got 23 points from Klay Thompson, 22 from Curry, and 12 points, 15 rebounds and four assists from Green but only got eight combined points from the other six players who saw time in the game.

Fatigue showed on both teams, with so many key players seeing 40 or more minutes in Tuesday’s thriller in Oakland. The result was a game that was a compelling combinatio­n of sloppy and tense.

Houston threatened to put the game away a few times in the first half, aided by Golden State’s five first-quarter turnovers. The Warriors, much as they were in a Game 2 loss here, were sloppy the entire first half and had nine giveaways by halftime.

Houston was unable to take advantage. Harden and Paul shot a combined 4 for 20 in the first half — including missing all 10 of their attempts from three-point range.

As a result, Golden State was able to recover from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter, and while the Warriors never led in the first half, they went into halftime tied at 45 after they scored the final eight points.

The second half then devolved into a tense, taut affair, with the lead going back and forth and rarely more than three points in either direction.

But it was Houston that made enough plays down the stretch. Golden State is on the brink of eliminatio­n, but the state of Paul’s hamstring will be on both teams’ minds over the next 48 hours.

 ?? RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES ?? Eric Gordon got possession after Draymond Green lost control of the ball in the closing seconds. Gordon led Houston with 24 points.
RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES Eric Gordon got possession after Draymond Green lost control of the ball in the closing seconds. Gordon led Houston with 24 points.

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