Warriors must reclaim purpose to slow Harden, close out Rockets 

click to enlarge The Rockets' James Harden shredded the Warriors' defense for 45 points in Game 4 at the Toyota Center in Houston. - RONALD MARTINEZ/AP
  • Ronald Martinez/AP
  • The Rockets' James Harden shredded the Warriors' defense for 45 points in Game 4 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Looking for answers following the Warriors' bipolar returns after two stormy Memorial Day weekend games in Houston?

Don't expect any definitive prescriptions from the respective Western Conference finals coaches about "The Tale of Two Games."

"I have no idea," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale, when asked why his team is at its best when times are at their worst.

Not to be outdone, Warriors coach Steve Kerr replied concisely when asked Tuesday how his team matches the Rockets' brink-of-elimination intensity ahead of tonight's Game 5 at Oracle Arena:

"Apparently, I don't know," he said.

Indeed, after producing 115 points in consecutive games—a 35-point demolition-style 115-80 victory in Game 3 Saturday, followed by a 13-point, 128-115 loss and reversal of fortunes—the Warriors were bombarded by questions about Monday's performance.

Of course, those queries start with Stephen Curry's health, following his dramatic Game 4 tumble, with Kerr and the Warriors insisting that all league-required concussion test protocols were met and that Curry has shown no post-fall symptoms since Monday night. But the biggest issue is uncertainty about Golden State's defensive energy, staring down a Houston team in its fifth elimination game this postseason. After all, isn't defense the Kerr mantra?

"They were just more ready to play than we were," Kerr said. "They were faster to the ball than we were. They were more aggressive, playing with a chip, and we were not quite ready for that barrage. They earned it, and we got what we deserved."

Such are the honors when a team opens up a 12-0 lead to start the game, and races to a 45-22 first quarter advantage on 8-of-9 three-point shooting—the most points the Warriors allowed in a single quarter this season, as well as the most Houston scored.

"Well, they made everything," Kerr said. "They won the game in the first quarter ... tough to come back from 23 down after one quarter. I was really proud of our guys. We fought, but that game was a first-quarter game. The game was won in the first."

A huge reason for the early deficit was playmaking power forward Josh Smith, who scored eight of the Rockets' first 12 points, sank his first seven shots, and finished with 20 points and five assists.

From start-to-finish, though, the chief culprit was MVP runner-up James Harden and his 45-point, nine-rebound, five-assist night, with The Beard scoring or assisting on 42 of Houston's 59 second-half points. Two nights removed from just making three field goals, Harden poured in 13 Game 4 buckets, including seven threes (after netting just five in the previous three losses).

Presumably, Golden State will look to severely limit the 6-foot-5 assassin's airspace beyond the arc at the expense of open looks for Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer (a respectable 5-of-14 from distance in Game 4, versus just 1-of-12 in Game 3). The Warriors will continue mixing in Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala defensively in hopes of flummoxing Harden's playmaking rhythm—while keeping the team's interior defense intact.

"We got beat on backdoor cuts," Kerr said after Game 4. "That's usually a pretty good sign that you're not ready to play defense. Got lost a couple times in transition. There were some signs, I thought, early on that we were not sharp."

As for Smith, whose 3-of-4 three-point shooting performance historically marked only the eighth time in his career he shot better 75-percent or better when attempting four or more threes, Kerr didn't sound as though the Warriors would reinvent the wheel to stop him.

Meanwhile, offensively, the Warriors could take plenty of silver linings from Game 4, including a revived Klay Thompson with 24 points and six threes (outpacing his four in Games 1-3 combined), Leandro Barbosa's 12 points and plus-16 point differential, and 20 made three-pointers as a team.

But the 46 attempts it took the Warriors to get there belied a quiet offensive evening from Golden State's bigs, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, who followed his thunderous 10-point, plus-26 performance with four points in ten minutes (and a minus-six differential). Bogut, meanwhile, was held scoreless in 21 minutes, just as he was in Game 1, and took a highly debated Flagrant-1 elbow to the face from Howard.

"We just got to play, and be aggressive, get stops and do our thing," Kerr said.

Said McHale: "I wish we were better when things were better. But hey, now we've got to go there, we'll have a big crowd and we've got to attack them. You've got to be in attack mode against that team."

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Jack Ross

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