Warriors’ small-ball comes up big again 

The first game of the Western Conference Finals may have felt like "The NeverEnding Story," but a mystery it was not.

As they did in the regular season, the Warriors still own the Houston Rockets.

Stephen Curry scored a game-high 34 points, Draymond Green nearly posted a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists en route to a 110-106 victory at Oracle Arena on Tuesday night. The Warriors survived a memorable performance by James Harden, who had 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to post their fifth victory in as many tries against the Rockets this season.

After Houston tied the game at 97-97 with 5:28 to play, the Warriors reeled off an 11-0 run — including yet another late dagger by Curry, who drained an off-balance 3-pointer to give them a 106-97 lead with just over three minutes left. He celebrated with a shake of his shoulders as he rose to his feet.

The Rockets trimmed the lead to 108-106 on Trevor Ariza's transition 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to cap their own 9-0 rebuttal, but Curry knocked down a pair of free throws to seal the victory.

"It's entertaining basketball," Curry summed up the up-and-down affair.

"We finally realized it was the Western Conference finals," coach Steve Kerr said.

Indeed, there were story lines galore, including a dual between the NBA's top-two Most Valuable Player vote-getters, Curry and Harden, plenty of open-court small-ball, a potentially significant left knee bruise to Rockets center Dwight Howard (seven points, 13 rebounds) and even a dash of fourth-quarter chippiness between Green and Trevor Ariza thrown in for good measure.

Klay Thompson scored 15 points, Harrison Barnes added 14 and Shaun Livingston poured in 18 off the bench, including 14 in the second quarter.

Livingston's minutes, in particular, were crucial. After the Warriors fell behind 49-33 with 7:05 left in the second, Kerr decided to go small with Green at center, flanked by Curry, Thompson and Barnes. The returns were prodigious, including a 13-2 flurry marked by three Howard turnovers, wide-open layups and 3-pointers.

A Green-to-Barnes corner 3 made it 56-55 with a minute left in the first half. The Warriors never trailed again.

"Sometimes, with Game 1, there's a feeling-out process," Kerr said. "Houston was not in that process, and we were. They were coming off Game 7 (against the Los Angeles Clippers) on a high. They came out really as the aggressor, and I thought we took a quarter-and-a-half to really dig in defensively. From that point on, we were much better."

For Houston, Ariza finished with 20 points and Josh Smith posted 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Smith also fell to the ground after missing a layup and unintentionally collided with Howard in the first quarter.

After heading to the dressing room briefly, Howard eventually returned but went scoreless in nine minutes of the second half. His absence did allow Houston to find success with a down-sized lineup featuring Harden at point guard and Terrence Jones at center late in the game.

The Warriors responded in kind with Livingston, Green, Barnes and Andre Iguodala rotating in the post.

"When we go small, it's not necessarily small," Livingston said. "We're able to cover a lot of ground defensively. From there, it's just feeding off our crowd, and you guys heard it, Oracle was rocking tonight. And it gave us a lot of momentum."

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Jack Ross

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