The easy way to summarize the final 6.9 seconds would be to blame James Harden.
He was the one who had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game.
He was the one who gave the ball up to Dwight Howard above the three-point line as seconds ticked away.
And it was Harden who didn’t even get a potential game-winning shot off as his Houston Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors 99-98 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena.
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But that wouldn’t be fair or accurate.
There’s a reason a player as great as Harden, who finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, did not finish the game going to the rim.
It’s the Warriors’ defense, which once again came through when it mattered most to give Golden State a 2-0 series lead. Harden couldn’t get to the rim because there were two Warriors, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in his way.
“They did a good job of having two guys on me, so I couldn’t attack,” Harden said.
The Warriors’ poise in that situation allowed them to head to Houston in control of the series. The Rockets did not call a timeout in the final seconds, electing to allow their MVP to make something happen.
Golden State’s defense didn’t allow Harden to make one more magical play.
“Klay funneled him to me and I was able to get a body on him,” Curry said. “He threw it away to Dwight and he threw it right back, so at that point, it’s was just don’t let him get a shot off and try to be the hero. So we were able to get it done.”
The Warriors have been getting it done defensively all season, which is why they are two wins from the NBA Finals.
Good teams do all they can to make sure the opposing star does not beat them, and the Warriors pulled that off in part by making Harden give up the ball, a decision that surprised most in sold-out Oracle.
“Steph made a great read with that double-team,” Thompson said. “(Harden) was rolling, so it was hard to imagine him giving the ball up.”
Harden matched Curry’s superb showing (33 points, six assists), but didn’t get much help from anyone other than Dwight Howard (19 points, 17 rebounds) and 12 points and three blocks off the bench from Terrence Jones.
Still, the Rockets forced the miss they needed in the final seconds, and had the ball in Harden’s hands.
The Warriors just had enough defensive focus to survive.
“Anytime (Harden) has the ball, we like our chances,” said Rockets forward Trevor Ariza. “It was just unfortunate that we didn’t get a shot up and they made a great play at the end of the game to get a stop and get a win.”
It was great defense, but that’s not to say the Warriors should feel comfortable heading into Game 3.
The Warriors did plenty to warrant losing this game. They nearly blew a 17-point lead, had 17 turnovers and were outplayed by the Rockets for the most part after the first quarter.
Houston blew a 16-point lead in Game 1, too, so the Rockets feel good heading back to Toyota Center.
“The key for us going into the next game is to protect our lead down the stretch of the fourth quarter,” Curry said. “Because we’ve built up seven-, eight-point leads in the last two games and made it a little too drama-filled for us, so we want to figure that out as we go to Houston.”
And considering the Rockets overcame a 3-1 deficit in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals, down 2-0 with two home games coming up isn’t daunting.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We’re just going to keep on standing here and swinging. That’s what we do. We’ve just got to keep standing here swinging.”