Thursday, 28 April 2016

No Curry? No Problem, as Warriors Eliminate Rockets

OAKLAND, Calif. — When the Golden State Warriors gathered for practice on Tuesday morning, Coach Steve Kerr addressed the one topic that was impossible for everyone to ignore: Stephen Curry’s injured right knee. More specifically, the steps his team would need to take during Curry’s indefinite absence.

Kerr began by offering some perspective. Few teams in the playoffs are immune from injuries. Not the Los Angeles Clippers, who lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this week. Not the Boston Celtics, who are without the services of Avery Bradley. And not the Warriors, who are suddenly dealing with a significant void in their backcourt.

“We have to just keep moving,” Kerr said. “For now, we just have to play without him. We’ve proven we can do pretty well. We’re not the same team, but we can still win games.”

On Wednesday, the Warriors won another, demolishing the Houston Rockets, 114-81, to close out their first-round series in five games. It was a Curry-free clinic put on by the Warriors, who took the best-of-seven series, four games to one, and showed once again that they are greater than one man, even if that one man is a star of Curry’s caliber.

Klay Thompson, so often overshadowed by Curry during the regular season, scored 27 points and went 7 of 11 from 3-point range to lead the Warriors, who will face the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals. Draymond Green collected 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, and the Warriors had 30 assists on 45 field goals.

“Everybody, they think Steph goes down and the entire series changes,” Green told The Associated Press after the game. “But we thought otherwise.”

James Harden scored 35 points for the Rockets. His teammates combined to shoot 26 percent.

Fans at Oracle Arena wore matching gold T-shirts that read “Strength in Numbers” across the front. That has been one of Kerr’s mantras since he took the job before the start of last season, and it probably resonates with his players now more than ever.

The Warriors lost Curry for at least two weeks when he slipped on a wet spot and injured his knee in Sunday’s Game 4 victory. On Wednesday, Curry was a presence on the bench, albeit while wearing a beige blazer instead of a uniform. He walked with a slight limp. Kerr said he was optimistic that Curry would eventually rejoin the team in its hunt for a second straight title.

“We’ve won a lot of games the last couple years with various people out,” Kerr said before the game, “and we’ve just got to keep doing it. There’s no secret formula. It’s just everybody being ready to play and ready to compete.”

Before Wednesday’s game, the Rockets’ Jason Terry made a guarantee of sorts, pledging that the Warriors would have a “long flight” back to Houston for a potential Game 6. Many of the Warriors seemed mildly amused by Terry’s words. Others disregarded them all together.

“I don’t care,” Andrew Bogut said.

“Good for him,” Thompson said.

Sure enough, things got away from the Rockets in a hurry. Thompson and Green opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Rockets Coach J. B. Bickerstaff took all of 74 seconds to call his first timeout. It did little good. Shaun Livingston, who replaced Curry in the starting lineup, sank his first six shots. The Warriors led by as many as 19 in the first quarter.

Rockets not named James Harden shot 5 of 34 in the first half. By the third quarter, with the Warriors’ lead continuing to grow, the Rockets yielded to the sad reality of a long off-season ahead of them — and most likely an overhaul of their roster.

“The season, from the beginning, wasn’t going our way,” Harden told The A.P. “Just had too many distractions. It’s just been like a bumpy road this entire season.”

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