Warriors 105, Rockets 93: A final five minutes of hurricane defensive fury

Harrison Barnes, all man on both ends in a stellar performance against the Rockets.

So about this big storm that’s supposed to hit. Will it be anymore fierce and devastating than the Warriors were down the stretch Wednesday night against the Houston Hardens?

Man, that was a hurricane of hellacious defense when it mattered most, and without Andrew Bogut, it almost made you forget what had gone on the first 3 1/2 quarters, when Golden State struggled to find any kind of consistent rhythm at either end.

But in the NBA, it’s all about how you finish, and that was a finish of convincing force — a total knockout — by a lineup that didn’t have anyone over 6-foot-8 on the floor. Don Nelson would have been proud, if he ever had a team play defense like these current Warriors.

Steve Kerr said he saw a glimpse of small ball defensive dynamism in the second quarter and noted that the undersized lineup he had on the floor then might have put the game away earlier if not for some turnovers and missed shots. But in the final five minutes, everything clicked, with Draymond Green manning the center spot and Harrison Barnes the four, and the two young studs flying around and switching like mad to absolutely smother the Rockets inside. The burst of defense also included Klay Thompson completely shutting down James Harden, who had terrorized Golden State all night with 34 points, over the final 4:45. For good measure, he went off on the other end in his team-leading 21-point effort.

“They attacked us off the dribble, and when they went small, it bothered us,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “We just had trouble getting the ball into the post.”

Early on — actually, for much of the game — it didn’t like the Warriors had the defensive wherewithal to beat a 16-4 opponent without Bogut. The Rockets got 50 points in the paint for the game, so they did some real damage without Golden State’s ace rim protector to slow them down. But the Warriors solved it with sheer tenaciousness.

“We just had to make up for (Bogut’s absence) by being quick and scrappy,” said Barnes, who played an electric game at both ends of the floor — 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, seven rebounds and stellar defense. That dangerous offensive game where he can slash to the rim and also bury the 3-pointer is back to where it was as a rookie, perhaps more so. And Harrison has added more defensive dimension to his game.

“He was fantastic tonight,” said Kerr. “He’s so quick and strong, and again, like Draymond, the defensive versatility gives us a lot of flexibility and a lot of coaches have to decide whether to go big or small. Our wings are big enough to guard post players and when we switch everything, like we did tonight, it’s hard to punish us for it because of that versatility. I think Harrison represents that versatility that we possess.”

A few other random thoughts:

–Mo Buckets, aka Marreese Speights, scored 15 off the bench and was particularly good in the third quarter when the Rockets were trying to break the game open. He didn’t get a sniff of attention in the postgame, though. That’s how significant those final five minutes were.

–Shaun Livingston is really starting to take hold in these rotations, and he was even on the floor during the club’s late-game run in place of Andre Iguodala. He played more than 28 minutes and while his stats don’t leap off the page, he’s showing himself to be very solid in so many areas — shooting, passing, defending, running the show or playing off the ball. Before this season is out, Livingston may go down as Bob Myers’ best off-season move. He might already be there.

–Then there’s the move Myers and the Warriors didn’t make — trading Thompson and Barnes to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Those two combined for 41 and played the kind of D Love has never played. They have to laugh that they even considered that swap now.

–Stephen Curry had a quiet 20, other than that incredible 9-point rush at the second quarter. But he had seven rebounds and seven assists, and like the rest of the Warriors down the stretch, played fabulous defense.

–The Warriors are stoked for this upcoming three-game trip to Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis. They know the rest of the league will be watching and looking for a bubble burst, and Green verbalized the stakes — and the goals. “This is a road trip where you can go 0-3 easily,” he said. “But this is one where we look to go 3-0 and really make a stand.”

Getting Bogut back would be an immense help — and indications are he’ll be ready for Saturday in Dallas — but this team is showing it is deep and versatile enough to weather his absences as long as they aren’t protracted.

19-2. Fourteen in a row. It’s almost unfathomable if you’re a longtime Warriors fan who has endured so much misery. But this group is the real deal. They showed it against a good Rockets team with that finishing kick.

That big, bad incoming storm has a tough act to follow.


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