Kevin Durant scored 35 points in outdueling James Harden and the Golden State Warriors held off the Houston Rockets 104-100 on Sunday in the opener of what is shaping up to be a sensational best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.
Houston’s Chris Paul was ejected with 4.4 seconds left for a second technical. He had rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Harden that could have tied the game with 9 seconds left and was arguing for a foul.
Draymond Green added 14 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for the two-time defending champion Warriors, who are meeting the Rockets in the postseason for the fourth time in five years and with Houston having never been victorious.
Harden scored 35 points and Eric Gordon 27 after both struggled early finding their shooting strokes for the cold-shooting Rockets. They shot 14 for 47 from long range and were without reserve guard Austin Rivers because of an illness.
Harden’s three-point play with 40 seconds left pulled Houston within 100-98. Stephen Curry knocked down a 3 on the other end over Nene moments later and finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Durant, who had combined for 95 points the previous two games against the Clippers, shot 11 for 25 and made 12 of 15 free throws in his fifth straight 30-point playoff performance — matching his career-best streak accomplished from June 1-12, 2017.
Technical fouls on Paul and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni 2.1 seconds apart in the final minute of the third allowed the Warriors to take an 83-76 lead into the final 12 minutes after Durant converted the free throws.
Game 2 is Tuesday night back at Oracle Arena.
Klay Thompson scored 13 points on a sprained right ankle.
Both Curry and Thompson had been listed as questionable nursing tender right ankles after they each sprained them in Game 6 against the Clippers on Friday night. Curry was cleared beforehand but Thompson had to go through warmups before Golden State’s medical staff determined he was fine to play.
Coach Steve Kerr went with Andre Iguodala over 7-foot center Andrew Bogut in the starting five to go smaller out of the gates against the Rockets — the group Kerr has called his best lineup.
Iguodala picked up two quick fouls and Kevon Looney entered and made his first three shots.
These West powerhouses fought through a seven-game series in last year’s Western Conference finals, when Golden State rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win Game 7 on Houston’s home floor.
Paul is on a mission after he sat out the final two games because of an injured right hamstring he hurt in Game 5. He had 17 points Sunday.
The Rockets missed their final 27 3-pointers in the deciding 2018 game and came out cold again.
When Houston missed a 3 on its initial shot of the game, Golden State fan Jones Castro yelled “O for 28!” He added an “O for 29!” moments later and the Rockets missed their first eight from deep overall before Harden connected at the 4:35 mark of the first.
Houston was 1 for 14 from deep in the first and fell behind 28-19. Gordon missed his first six 3s.
Green picked up his third technical of the postseason 3:13 before halftime and would receive an automatic suspension if he reaches seven.
With the Warriors having such a quick turnaround from winning Game 6 on the road, it’s nice to know Houston so well.
Aside from last year’s West final, Golden State beat the Rockets in 2015 on the way to the finals and their first championship in 40 years.
“I think it helps us given we only had 36 hours between series,” Kerr said. “If you’re only going to have that much time to prepare for somebody we’d like to know them pretty well.”
The Rockets had since Wednesday after closing out the Jazz in five games and flew into the Bay Area on Friday night to get ready.
D’Antoni wasn’t counting on the early arrival giving the Rockets an advantage.
Durant scored 45 and a playoff career-high 50 points his previous two games against the Clippers.
“You’re assuming you can defend him,” D’Antoni said before the game. “That’s an assumption nobody knows yet.”
With his first basket, Durant (1,281) passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for fifth place on the Warriors’ all-time postseason scoring list.
Rockets: The Rockets forced eight turnovers in the first quarter that led to 10 points. But Houston shot so poorly it had just one assist. … Houston is 5-13 against the Warriors in the playoffs dating to the 2015 postseason.
Warriors: An MRI exam on Thompson’s ankle Saturday showed no significant damage. Kerr knew Thompson would do everything in his power to play, no matter the pain. “The guy’s pain tolerance is incredible with his toughness and willingness to play through injury,” Kerr said. “We know what Klay is all about but we have to be wise and look at the big picture, too.” … Golden State committed 20 total turnovers. … The Warriors are 17-1 in Game 1s dating to the 2015 title run, losing a series opener only in the 2016 Western Conference finals vs. Oklahoma City when Durant was still on the Thunder. … DeMarcus Cousins sat on the bench for the first time since tearing his left quadriceps muscle in Game 2 vs. Los Angeles.