HOUSTON — It takes quite a bit to jolt the Golden State Warriors. The defending champions have so much talent that they can lose the 2017 Finals MVP, Kevin Durant, for a key game like Thursday’s 124-114 win over the Houston Rockets and still have three All-Stars in the starting lineup.
Or, as Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni put it before the game, “It doesn’t affect anything. They’ll do what they do. They’re still world champions without him.”
But the Rockets genuinely stunned the Warriors on opening night in October when the new-look James Harden-Chris Paul backcourt came back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Golden State in Oakland.
The Warriors have some breathing room against the Rockets at the top of the Western Conference standings. Larry W. Smith/EPA
This new Rockets team wasn’t a gimmick. It was formidable, with two future Hall of Famers and key new role players such as PJ Tucker and the since-injured Luc Mbah a Moute anchoring the type of switching defense that can give the Warriors problems.
In other words, the Warriors had plenty to prove to their Western Conference foe Thursday night, no matter if Houston was missing Harden or not.
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 from 3, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Klay Thompson had 28 points and Draymond Green had 17 points (5-of-9 field goals), 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
It was Green’s 21st career triple-double, breaking Tom Gola’s all-time franchise record. It was also Green’s 12th career triple-double in a game in which he attempted fewer than 10 field goals, the most such triple-doubles in the shot clock era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s special, to do it so fast, and his consistency every night is huge,” Curry said of Green’s triple-double record. “He didn’t really play his first two years really. So to see how fast he has gotten to that level, the way he has raised his level of play, is pretty impressive.”
Draymond’s record triple-double paces Warriors’ winThe Warriors stay unbeaten when Draymond Green gets a triple-double. With 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, Green’s 21st career triple-double sets a new franchise record.
The rematch Thursday night was supposed to be a measuring stick for both teams. But with Harden (hamstring) and Durant (calf) out with injuries, it remains to be seen how big of a threat the Rockets really are to the defending champs.
What might’ve been still could be later this year once both players are healthy — perhaps as soon as Jan. 20, when they play again in Houston.
But what this game might’ve lacked in star power, it made up for in star turns, as journeyman Gerald Green — who was signed Dec. 28 — and usual sixth man Eric Gordon went shot-for-shot with Golden State’s three remaining All-Stars before the Warriors pulled away late.
“Green kept them in the game almost single-handedly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the Houston native, who scored 29 points, including eight 3-pointers. “Feels like you should leave him open because it is all the crazy ones he makes. Then, some are open that he misses. One of those guys hard to get a gauge on his game.”
The Rockets are facing an NBA deadline of Sunday to either guarantee Gerald Green’s deal for the season or waive him. They’ve chosen the former, meaning Green will make $872,000 for the season.
Green was signed to provide depth after Mbah a Moute was injured, but has been pressed into a much larger role with Harden out for at least two weeks. The Houston native has thrived in the spotlight for his hometown team, first braiding the Rockets’ logo into his hair, then erupting for 56 points in his past two games. Green had 27 points (and seven 3-pointers) in Wednesday’s win over Orlando. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported after the game that Houston will sign Green for the rest of the season.
“I’m afraid to talk to him because I’ll mess it up,” D’Antoni said of Green. “He is just out playing. Thank goodness we got him. He’s been really good, he’s just not good, he’s been really good.”
Gordon led the Rockets with 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting. Paul had 28 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. The Warriors outscored the Rockets 31-24 in the fourth quarter after trailing at halftime.
“I just think we kind of ran out of gas,” Gordon said. “We just made little minor mistakes to where they kind of broke it away towards the end.”
Said Paul: “That’s a team that moves the ball well, they cut, they’ve been together forever. We’ve got to clean up some things, but we’ll be OK.”