OAKLAND — So much has been said about the Warriors, their shooting, their defense and all the other facets that are part of winning basketball. But maybe, in this great run of a half decade, not enough emphasis has been put on a word that their coach, Steve Kerr, used on Wednesday night after a game as wild and emotional as any: guts.
If anything could go wrong, in a game in which the Warriors needed so much to go right, it did go wrong.
Steph Curry didn’t score a point in the first quarter. Kevin Durant strained his right calf with two minutes to play in the third quarter and hobbled off. The Warriors went from 20 points in front in the second quarter to two points behind in the fourth quarter. Draymond Green fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
But somehow, some way, with a hyped-up crowd panicking that this might be the last game at Oracle Arena, the Warriors managed, on defense, rebounding and yes, guts, to beat the Houston Rockets, 104-99.
“I don’t know if you’re a soccer fan,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “but Liverpool (Tuesday) came out with one of the great wins in soccer history. After the match, their manager Jurgen Klopp said, ‘The young kids in Liverpool are probably asleep now so I’m going to say it. Our boys are bleeping giants.’ ... I know how he feels. Our guys are bleeping giants. That was an unbelievable victory tonight.”
Yes, holding the Rockets and James Harden under the century mark while barely topping it themselves. Yes, taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, which could end with another Warriors win at Houston in game 6 on Friday but more likely will go to a Game 7 at the Oracle on Sunday.
No Durant in the final 14 minutes. No Draymond in the final 1 minute 14 seconds, when the Rockets were only two baskets behind. And early on, it seemed like no Steph — his first field goal was not until 4:22 before halftime, and he had only 12 points through three quarters.
But Klay Thompson emerged from the place he had been, scoring 27, and Curry ended up with 25. And with enough basketball smarts and courage, the Warriors reminded us how they’ve won three of the last four NBA championships.
“I think our guys, they’ve been here so many times,” said Kerr. “They’ve been through these battles for the last five years. They’ve got a lot of guts.”
As do all winners, because at the highest level, and in basketball there’s nothing higher than the NBA, all the teams are good, and the difference between winning and losing might be the inch that enables someone to grab a loose ball or a crazy rebound.
This Warriors team, favored from day one of the season and then getting pounded in several games, doesn’t seem to have the magic of last year’s or the year before. And now it may not have Durant, who will have an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. A month ago or so, DeMarcus Cousins tore up a leg muscle. When things like that happen, it’s not your year.
But Kerr and the Warriors aren’t thinking that way. “If Kevin is out,” said Kerr, who only a few days ago said Durant, scoring 50 one game, 45 another, was the best basketball player on earth, “we’re going to have to find a way.”
They did find a way to stop, or slow, the unstoppable James Harden in the fourth quarter, when he scored only 5 of his game-high 31 points. “Tough one, tough one,” said Harden. “I think offensively we’ve got to get our shots.”
Which they didn’t all the time against a Warriors defense that was much more effective than in the Game 3 and 4 losses.
“Such a weird game,” said Kerr, “because we played so well in that second quarter. Probably should have gone in at the half up 20 or more (they led by 14). Missed a bunch of shots in the second quarter, open threes.”
Missed Durant. Missed Green. But didn’t miss the chance to win.
An unbelievable victory.