Memorable defensive play caps vintage Warriors’ victory 

OAKLAND — The Beard got cooking. The Rockets stayed stubborn. But the Splash Brothers got the last laugh.

Buoyed by James Harden’s 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Houston somehow scraped back from a 17-point first half deficit, fought off Stephen Curry’s 33-point, six assist MVP-caliber showing, and reeled off a 6-0 run in the final 1:13 — thanks to four Harden points and his alley-oop lob to Dwight Howard — to trim Golden State’s lead to 99-98 with 33 seconds left.

Then, on Golden State’s final possession, Harrison Barnes missed a reverse layup, Draymond Green went careening out-of-bounds with Barnes falling to floor, and the rebound fell to Harden with six seconds left, staring at a four-on-three fast-break to win the game.

But Klay Thompson halted Harden’s head of steam, and after giving the ball up to Howard and immediately getting it back at the top of key, the 6-foot-5 scoring maestro was swarmed in a double team by Thompson and Curry, fumbling the ball in the process.

The clock expired, Harden crumbled to the ground, the Brothers of Splash embraced — and the Warriors escaped with a 99-98 victory and 2-0 series advantage in the NBA Western Conference finals.

“Maybe in a few months, I’ll look back and enjoy the duel,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But right now, it’s just possession by possession, trying to get it done. We faltered at the end, but we were able to hang on with a great defensive stand on that last play. We made our share of mistakes in the last minute or so, but you know, we ultimately made the play we needed to make to deny that last shot.”

The chaotic final minute, which also included a Warriors eight-second violation with 40 seconds left, provided a fitting end to an Oracle Arena event filled with rugged, old-school play and high-drama throughout, where both team’s bigs surprisingly played crucial roles.

Andrew Bogut bounced back from a rare scoreless night in Game 1 with 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots, while Howard admirably endured 40 minutes on a sprained left knee, finishing with 19 points, 17 rebounds and the ever-important contest on Barnes in the final seconds.

Thompson added 13 points, including a crucial fourth-quarter rejection of Harden, and Green did everything again with another near-triple-double (12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists). Josh Smith scored 10 points (on 5-of-17 shooting), while Terrence Jones pitched in 12.

Deep into the game’s final three minutes, fans were treated to a dramatic back-and-forth with the MVP and MVP runner-up on center stage. Curry knocked down a deep two-pointer to prop an eight-point lead, and Harden responded with a three. With 1:39 left, Curry splashed a fade-away jumper for a 98-90 lead — leaving Harden to again respond by drawing a foul and draining two free throws. Both were great, but someone had to win and lose. Curry, as usual, was the survivor.

The action shifts to Houston for Game 3 Saturday night with the Rockets’ fighting a harsh reality: Teams trailing 2-0 in NBA history have rallied to win a series only six percent of the time.

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Jack Ross

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