The Golden State Warriors still have plenty of work to do if they hope to win their third straight championship.
But after fending off the Houston Rockets on Friday night without leading playoff scorer Kevin Durant to advance to the Western Conference finals, they did take a moment to celebrate the accomplishment.
“It shows you how much respect we have for Houston,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We just finished the conference semifinals series. We’re only halfway home to where we want to be. And yet the celebration in there felt like a much bigger occasion and that’s because of the challenge that this team put before us.”
Stephen Curry scored all of his 33 points in the second half to lead the Warriors to a 118-113 win.
Klay Thompson added 27 points to help two-time defending champion Golden State reach the conference finals for a franchise-record fifth straight year and eliminate Houston for the fourth time in five seasons. The Warriors did it with Durant sidelined by a calf injury sustained in the second half of their Game 5 victory.
“We’re all very happy, but now we’ve got to get home and get some rest and prepare for the next round,” Kerr said.
There won’t be a lot of time to recuperate with the conference finals starting on Tuesday night in Oakland against the winner of the Denver-Portland series. Kerr said he’d give his team the weekend off after most of his key players logged heavy minutes in this series in which each game was decided by six points or fewer.
Though this team has had plenty of big victories as it won the NBA title in three of the last four seasons, Kerr and many of his players acknowledged that this win was pretty special.
“It’s one of the most satisfying victories we’ve had during this run,” Kerr said.
Draymond Green said that downing the Rockets again also meant a bit more since Houston has said since losing to the Warriors in last year’s conference finals that its main focus was beating them this season.
“This one feels good … just because it was a team that said for years: ‘We’re built to beat them,'” Green said. “Then Kevin goes down and no one gives us a chance. You take all those things into account, this one feels amazing. If I said otherwise, I’d be sitting here lying to you.”
Curry struggled early, failing to score in the first half for the first time in 102 career playoff games, and had just 10 points through three periods. But he got going in the fourth, scoring 23 points.
There were questions entering the game about how the Warriors would weather the loss of Durant — and his more than 34 points a game. But they didn’t seem to miss a beat, getting 21 from Thompson in the first half before Curry closed it in the fourth.
The team said on Thursday that Durant would be re-evaluated next week and Kerr said after the game that it was too early to know if he could return at some point in the next series.
Though the Warriors were able to get past the Rockets behind big nights from Curry and Thompson, they know that their chances for defending the title are much better with Durant on the floor.
“I’m happy we won so we can get some rest and get him healthy,” Thompson said. “Because if we want to get this three-peat, we desperately need him back. He’s our best player, so we dearly miss him. We’ll hold it down while he’s out but it’s not the same.”
Curry finished out the series strong, but faced criticism for most of it as he struggled with his shot. He discussed the “noise” surrounding him lately and how he never let it get to him.
“I know what I’m capable of and it’s bigger than me,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in that. I don’t need any extra motivation. I don’t need to hear who I am as a player. I know that. My confidence never wavers.”