OAKLAND: NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors edged the Houston Rockets 99-98 on Thursday to double their lead in the Western Conference finals.
Curry again came out on top in a duel with James Harden, stifling the Rockets star in the moments before the final buzzer to preserve the win.
They took a two-games-to-none lead over the Rockets in the best-of-seven series, with the winners to take on the Eastern Conference champions in the NBA finals.
Golden State had to battle to the bitter end. Their eight-point lead was trimmed to one after Harden’s alley-oop pass to Dwight Howard with 33 seconds remaining.
After Harrison Barnes missed a reverse layup at the other end, the Rockets raced the ball up the court.
But Harden was double-teamed by Curry and Klay Thompson as the clock ticked down, passing to Howard on the perimeter.
Howard tossed the ball right back, Curry poked the ball away, and the Rockets were unable to get a potential game-winning shot off.
Curry led the Warriors with 33 points, including five three-pointers.
The hosts, who let slip an early 16-point lead to head into halftime tied 55-55, regrouped to take a 77-75 lead into the final period.
They never trailed in the final period, and appeared to be in control when Curry took charge with less than three minutes to play.
After stealing a Trevor Ariza pass, Curry hit a contested step-back jump shot, then drove left and threw a baseline bounce pass to a driving Andrew Bogut, who withstood a push from Howard and made a running shot for a 96-89 Warriors lead.
But Harden’s two free throws, a dunk and two more free throws pulled Houston within 99-96 with less than a minute to go.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he expected every game in the series to be a similar back-and-forth battle.
“We’re right where we need to be,” said Kerr, whose team led the league with 67 regular-season victories.
“We won the two at home. Now we head to Houston. Every game is probably going to be like this.”
The final sequence was the only blemish in an otherwise stellar performance from Harden, who finished with a game-high 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“Just a tough, tough play,” Howard said. “It’s a little frustrating, that last play.”
But he said there was no reason the Rockets couldn’t climb back into the series.
“We’re really confident about what we have going on,” he said. “We let two slip away, now we go back to Houston, take care of business at home.”
Houston center Howard had 19 points and 17 rebounds, playing 40 minutes despite playing with a strained left knee.