Golden State guard Klay Thompson is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
But even the best defenders usually are in for a long night against Houston’s James Harden.
“When (Harden is) making those step-back threes, you just have to shake your head because you feel like you contested it well,” Thompson said. “But when he gets rolling, you just have to get into his body.”
Even though the Rockets lost the first two games of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors, Harden averaged 33.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists. The series shifts for Saturday’s Game 3 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
If Harden continues playing at this level, the Rockets could even the series after two games in Houston.
Harden has made the Warriors work in both games. They overcame a 16-point, second-quarter deficit in Game 1 and narrowly won Game 2 after blowing a 17-point, second-quarter lead.
Thompson has the primary task of controlling Harden, which might be impossible without sending two or three defenders at the All-Star guard.
“It’s not easy, but I don’t let myself get frustrated because it’s a long game,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if James has 40 or five (points); it’s about if we win or lose.
“I don’t let made or missed shots dictate how I play defense, as long as I am in his body and making him take tough shots. Great players are going to make them, and he has made a lot of them already.”
Despite the Warriors’ efforts, Harden has made 24 of 42 shots (57.1 percent), creating space with his step-back jumper. And he has set up teammates by drawing multiple defenders when he attacks the basket.
“I think when I’m aggressive, everything else opens up for myself and my teammates,” Harden said. “Dwight (Howard) gets layups, and our shooters get shots. It’s all about just staying in attack mode. Just got to be aggressive and make the defense play honest.”
Sometimes Harden will get to his spots on the floor regardless of Thompson’s efforts, , so Thompson must rely on his teammates. It almost wasn’t enough in the first two games.
Of the help he expects, Thompson said: “Just use their length at the rim. They did a great job. (The Rockets) played great these two games, and hopefully I will limit (Harden) in Game 3. It’s a tall task, but it’s something I’m up for. It’s fun. I would be feeling a lot different if it was one-on-one, but any way you can get a win at this point is great.”
A double team by Thompson and Stephen Curry on Harden on Thursday prevented him from getting a shot off in the final seconds of the Warriors’ 99-98 win. He gave up the ball to Howard, who gave it right back to Harden. That allowed Curry to poke the ball away, and Curry and Thompson celebrated while Harden knelt with his face on the court in disgust.
Harden left the court knocking over furniture. But his teammates were adamant that their best chance comes with Harden having the ball with the game on the line.
“Kicking chairs, it’s frustrating,” Harden said. “(It’s) frustrating to give the game away like that for myself, but my teammates and coaches were behind me. ... Ten times out of 10 times we’ll take that play. It gave me confidence, but it’s still frustrating when I know I could have at least got a shot up.”
It’s one of the few times the Warriors have frustrated him in this series. They’ll need to do more of that in Houston.