By Matthew T.F. Harrington
It was a dream situation for coach Kevin McHale with the second Most Valuable Player holding the rock with the chance at a game winning shot as the clock ticked off its final seconds.
It turned into a nightmare when James Harden failed to even hoist up a potential buzzer beater. Harden’s Houston Rockets instead fell to the Golden State Warriors 99-98 Thursday night at Oracle Arena and now trail the Western Conference Finals 2-0.
In game one the Warriors trailed early before mounting a comeback for the victory, but Thursday appeared to be a reversal of fortunes. Houston trailed by 12 51-39 with 5 minutes left in the first half but managed to outscore the hosts 16-4 down the stretch to head to the half tied at 55-all.
The Warriors outscored the Rockets 22-20 in an evenly played 3rd frame, building up to the drama of the 4th. Twice, Golden State built a six-plus point lead over the final 12 minutes, but couldn’t put away the visitors.
With just 1:39 left in regulation and Houston trailing 98-90, James Harden went on to score six consecutive Rockets points to only one made free throw by Draymond Green for the Dubs. With 33 seconds left, the architect of the near comeback Harden found Dwight Howard for an alley oop to put the Rockets down by just one.
The Warriors still maintained the final position and seemed content to drain the clock and force Houston to take the game winner after Harrison Barnes missed the lay-up with 7 seconds left. Harden rebounded the ball and streaked to the other end of the court seeking a mid-range jumper. Instead he lost possession of the ball, and ultimately a chance at the game winning shot.
Despite showing his frustration by knocking over a set of curtains on his way off the court, Harden performed exceptionally Thursday, coming an assist shy of a triple-double after scoring 38 points and pulling down 10 boards while only going to the free throw line 10 times. Howard, deemed good to go after Josh Smith landed awkwardly on his leg in game one, played 40 minutes and collected a double-double with 17 boards and 19 points.
The Rockets appeared to forget that Stephen Curry wears the crown as reigning MVP, because throughout the night the Human Torch found himself wide open from beyond the arch. He punished Houston to the tune of 33 points over 36 minutes, including 5 treys on 11 attempts. Andrew Bogut, named to the second-team all defense earlier in the day, rebound from what he dubbed a poor performance in game one to score 14 points. First-team all defense award winner Draymond Green pitched in 12, while All-Defense snub Thompson pitched in 13.
The series now shifts to Houston and the Toyota Center where the Rockets went 30-11 in the regular season. Game 3 tips off Saturday night a 6 p.m.