HOUSTON: A playoff career-high 45 points by James Harden sparked the Houston Rockets to a 128-115 must-win victory Monday (Tuesday in Manila) over the Golden State Warriors, denying the Warriors an easy path to the NBA finals.
The Warriors had a scare and then breathed a sigh of relief after NBA Player of the Year Stephen Curry suffered a bruise to the back of his head after a bad fall in the second quarter but then returned to the game.
Houston got their first win in the series, pulling to 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals and forcing a fifth game Wednesday in Oakland. They snapped Golden State’s six-game win streak.
“We’re going to come out with some great intensity,” Harden said. “They are a tough team and we know we have to work hard.”
Curry called his spill the scariest fall he has suffered in a game, although he added he has been hurt worse and will be ready for game five.
“I will be fine,” Curry said. “I feel pretty good. Just not how I envisioned the game going, disappointed we lost. I came out of that relatively OK and tried to go in there and give my team something.”
Curry passed mandatory NBA concussion tests before being allowed back into the game midway into the third quarter.
“Obviously it’s always scary when a guy hits his neck,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He was up and went back to the locker room. Our doctors cleared him and he’s doing fine.”
While the Rockets prevented a sweep, no team in NBA history has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
“We’re a really good team when we are moving the ball and working together,” Harden said. “We’ve got to do a better job of being consistent.”
Harden made 13-of-22 shots from the floor, including 7-of-11 from 3-point range, and added nine rebounds and five assists.
“He played a hell of a game,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
The Rockets improved to 4-0 in playoff games when facing elimination, the first team with such a post-season run since the 2006 Phoenix Suns.
“We don’t want to go home,” Rockets center Dwight Howard said. “We came out and played as hard as we could, left it all on the floor and when you do that, good things will happen.”
The West champion will face the Eastern Conference champion in the NBA Finals starting June 4. Cleveland leads Atlanta 3-0 in the East with game four on Tuesday.
Rockets never trailed
The Rockets opened a 12-0 lead in the first 3:15 and stretched it to 45-22 after the first quarter.
“The game was won in the first quarter,” Kerr said. “They were more ready than we were. We were on our heels. They were making shots from everywhere. The came out on fire.”
Curry’s severe fall came when he leaped into the air as Houston’s Trevor Ariza went up for a shot. Curry soared over Ariza and fell hard onto the floor, landing on the back of his head and neck.
“That was the scariest one because you are in the air for a long time and you know you’re going to hit the floor,” Curry said.
“It’s a bad feeling. Once the situation changes completely in the air, you see you’ve got no control over yourself. It could have been a lot worse.”
Curry stayed on the court for several minutes before being escorted to the locker room.
“I could hear voices from trainers saying take my time, don’t rush myself getting up,” Curry said. “I was still a little in shock from the feeling of falling. I got back to the locker room and gathered myself and was able to get back out there.”
Curry finished with 23 points, including six 3-point baskets.
The Warriors, seeking their first trip to the NBA Finals since winning the 1975 title, became the first team to lose after making 20 3-point shots, as the teams combined for a record 37 3-point baskets.
The Rockets, who have not reached the NBA Finals since winning the title in 1995, had lost all seven prior games against Golden State in the playoffs and regular season.
Howard had 14 points and 12 rebounds while Josh Smith had 20 points for the Rockets and Ariza added 17.
Klay Thompson led Golden State with 24 points while Draymond Green added 21 points and 15 rebounds.