James Harden drained the game winner on a turnaround jumper with two seconds left as the Houston Rockets clipped the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors 97-96 in a first-round NBA playoff contest.
Harden’s clutch basket Thursday allowed the Rockets to cut the Warriors series lead in the Western Conference tussle to two games to one.
“The last shot was typical of what James does,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The move, we’ve seen before.
“The finish, we’ve seen before. You do get spoiled by it at times, but in these biggest of moments, you can’t help but appreciate it.”
The defending champion Warriors were playing without MVP guard Curry, who has an injured right ankle. The Warriors hope to have Curry back in the fold for game four Sunday at the Toyota Centre arena.
The Rockets blew a 17-point lead and trailed with 10 seconds left when Trevor Ariza threw away an inbounds pass that resulted in a fastbreak layup by Warriors reserve guard Ian Clark.
That set the stage for Harden’s heroics. He followed with a quick dribble, drove the lane and spun free before nailing the short jump shot.
Golden State forward Draymond Green dribbled the ensuing inbounds pass off his foot and out of bounds for a turnover with one second left.
Curry was inactive for a second consecutive game as Golden State took a cautious approach with his return, opting against having him suit up following four days of rest.
If Curry participates in three-on-three drills on Friday and five-on-five Saturday, chances are good that he will return on Sunday. Shaun Livingston started in place for Curry.
Harden finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to pace five Rockets in double figure scoring. Donatas Motiejunas tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Dwight Howard added 13 points and 13 rebounds but missed two key free throws with 3:07 left.
Reserve forward Marreese Speights paced the Warriors with 22 points.
“We have to play better as a team,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Klay Thompson’s playoff three-point streak of 31-straight games ended. It was second longest active streak behind Curry’s 41-straight games.
RAPTORS, THUNDER DOMINATE
In the other Western Conference contest Thursday night, Kevin Durant scored a game-high 34 points, Russell Westbrook tallied 26 and the Oklahoma City Thunder cruised to a 131-102 first round playoff win over the Dallas Mavericks.
With the victory in front of a crowd of 20 100 at the American Airlines Centre in Dallas, the Thunder grabbed a 2-1 lead.
Game four is scheduled for Saturday in Dallas.
Wesley Matthews led the Mavericks with 22 points, Raymond Felton had 18 and Dirk Nowitzki finished with 16.
The Toronto Raptors also rolled to victory as Kyle Lowry finished with 21 points and eight assists and DeMar DeRozan added 21 points in a 101-85 victory over the host Indiana Pacers.
The Raptors lead the East series 2-1 and regained home-court advantage after dropping game one in Toronto.
DeMarre Carroll scored 17 points for Toronto, which took a 10-9 lead and never trailed again.
Paul George led Indiana with 25 points, Myles Turner scored 17, and George Hill added 13.
Game four is set for Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.