Rockets edge Warriors to level NBA playoff series

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) and guard Chris Paul (3) celebrate after defeating the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. (Reuters/USA Today pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: James Harden scored 30 points and Chris Paul added 27 to lead the Houston Rockets over defending champion Golden State 95-92 Tuesday, equalizing their NBA playoff series at two wins each.

The victory snapped Golden State’s record playoff home win streak at 16 games, with the Warriors suffering their first loss since the 2016 NBA Finals, and gave the Rockets their first playoff win at Golden State in eight tries.

“We know how hard it is to come back from 3-1,” Paul said. “When it’s winning time, you have got to suck it up. We knew we needed one here and we got it.”

P.J. Tucker had 16 rebounds and Clint Capella grabbed 13 for the NBA season win-leading Rockets, who pulled even in the best-of-seven Western Conference final that continues Thursday in Houston.

“We’ve got to come out and play hard. City of Houston we need you,” Paul said.

Paul hoped the Rockets’ title quest might help the Houston area take relief from a school shooting that saw a teen gunman kill 10 people, much the way the Houston Astros’ World Series baseball title did last year after hurricane flooding.

“Hopefully basketball can be a way for people to ease their minds, if only for a moment,” Paul said.

Game six will be Saturday at Golden State. The series winner will face either Cleveland or Boston in the NBA Finals starting May 31.

Stephen Curry led Golden State with 28 points on 10-of-26 shooting while Kevin Durant added 27 points and 12 rebounds and Draymond Green had 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.

But Harden made 11-of-26 shots from the floor and Paul hit 10-of-20 to lift the Rockets, who closed the game on a 25-10 run after falling behind 82-70.

“In the fourth quarter we just ran out of gas,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They outplayed us in the fourth quarter and that was the difference.

“This game was just trench warfare, everybody grinding it out… I’m sure we’ll look at the film and kick ourselves. Their physicality made a difference.”

Golden State, which opened the game on a 12-0 run, scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter.

“This is the highest level we’ve ever played defensively,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There was some good defense in there to get us back. And they got a little tired in the fourth quarter because they felt us for three quarters.”

– ‘Gutting it out’ –

Curry’s 3-point play lifted Golden State within 91-89 with 3:18 remaining. Houston’s Eric Gordon answered with a 3-pointer but Durant added two free throws to pull the Warriors within 94-91.

Draymond Green sank a free throw to pull the Warriors within 94-92 and Harden missed a 3-pointer. Thompson missed a 3-pointer but Paul was fouled with a half-second remaining.

Paul hit a free throw but the Warriors had one last chance, Curry missing a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

“There’s just great basketball now. It was just gutting it out and willing it ,” D’Antoni said. “Holding them to 12 points in the fourth quarter, that was obviously key.

“Got to find a way. This thing is not always going to be pretty but it’s going to be tough.”

Harden scored 15 of his 24 first-half points in the second quarter as Houston, down 28-19 after one quarter, surged to a 53-46 half-time lead.

The Rockets outscored Golden State 25-10 in the final seven minutes of the second quarter, the Warriors missing nine of their final 11 first-half shots.

– ‘Hell of a run’ –

The Warriors, lacking starter Andre Iguodala due to a bruised left leg, saw Curry limited with foul trouble and Klay Thompson suffer a nagging left knee strain in the second quarter.

But Curry scored 17 points in the third quarter, sinking three consecutive 3-pointers in an 18-3 run that sparked the Warriors to an 80-70 edge after three quarters.

“They went on a hell of a run in the third and I told the guys in the huddle ‘Let’s fight back,'” Paul said. “Hell of an effort. Fun game. Big time game.”

The Rockets missed their first eight shots — including three layups in the first three minutes — and surrendered two turnovers in the first five scoreless minutes.