Apr 17, 2016 Sports
USA TODAY Sports – OAKLAND – For all the flattering focus on Stephen Curry and his understated ways, there’s a downside to his quiet confidence for anyone who enjoys a good sports storyline.
The soon-to-be two-time MVP rarely, if ever, tells the truth about what fuels him.
So when Players Association MVP James Harden and the Houston Rockets came to town for a first-round playoff matchup against his defending champion Golden State Warriors that was a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, only Curry knew how much the shared history would be on his mind. And when the Rockets’ renowned agitator, Patrick Beverley, tried to manhandle Curry midway through the first quarter of the Warriors’ 104-78 rout, only Curry knew if that was truly the poking-the-bear moment that so many deemed it to be.
As always, the reigning MVP let the results speak for themselves. And his Warriors, who benefited so greatly from his 24-point outing, are up 1-0. The key question entering Game 2 on Monday, however, isn’t what Curry is saying but how he’s feeling.
When Curry turned his right ankle late in the second quarter, hobbling back up the floor before making his way to the locker room, it dampened the mood of an already-salty crowd. As if Beverley’s antics weren’t enough – the Rockets guard tangling up with Curry before the two exchanged fearless pleasantries and were assessed double technical fouls – here was their favorite basketball son looking human at the worst possible of times.
The place went eerily quiet, the Beverley boos quickly becoming a thing of the past as Curry’s status remained in question. In the end, he played a little more than two minites in the second half (17 in the first half) but was deemed available to return. From Warriors owner Joe Lacob on down, they can breathe again.
It’s a luxury the Rockets cannot afford, as they showed about as much ability to slow the Warriors as they did repeat the valiant 2014-15 effort that now seems so far away. From a 56-win effort back then to a .500 effort (41-41) that included three consecutive wins at season’s end to sneak into the playoffs, this is simply not the same gritty team. The Warriors won all three of the regular season matchups during their historic 73-win campaign. And Harden, who pushed Curry so hard for the actual MVP honor last season before winning the NBPA one that seems so silly now, has been relegated to second-tier status.
While Harden recovered in the second half to finish with 17 points, the halftime line said it all about the state of these star-studded affairs: Curry 24 points (8 of 13 shooting; five of seven from three-point range); Harden four points (two of nine shooting; 0-1 from three). Rockets big man Dwight Howard had 14 points and 11 rebounds, but Houston’s 35.7% shooting and 24 turnovers brought their series-opening doom. Harden, who is adept at getting to the free throw line, had no foul shot attempts in this game.
The Warriors, who shot 42.9% overall and buried 10-of-25 on three pointers, are officially on their way in this title defence.
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