OAKLAND – It appeared the Warriors were in deep trouble when Kevin Durant limped off the court and into the locker room with 2:05 left in the third quarter, never to return.
But no. They came together. They weren’t going to let this one get away. Not at home.
The Warriors held on Wednesday night for a 104-99 Game 5 victory over the Rockets, taking a 3-2 series lead and moving within a win of advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the fifth consecutive season.
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Here are three takeaways from the victory:
They overcame the loss of Durant: Durant had scored a team-best 22 points in 32 minutes when he left the game. He also had five rebounds, four assists and a steal. The Warriors had a 68-65 lead.
Coach Steve Kerr suddenly had to shuffle his rotation in ways he surely never imagined. Alfonzo McKinnie and Jonas Jerebko, who didn’t play at all in Games 1 and 4, were summoned. More was asked of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.
Plunged into unfamiliar territory – a playoff game without Durant – the Warriors responded splendidly.
The collective focus sharpened, the effort went to another level and they made enough shots to hold off the Rockets.
Thompson arrives: The Warriors and their fans have been waiting for Thompson’s offense, mostly MIA in the first four games of the series, to show up. It did in Game 5.
Finding his rhythm early, puncturing Houston with 12 points in 10 first-quarter minutes, Thompson finished with a team-high 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc – including a huge triple that gave the Warriors an eight-point lead with 2:34 remaining.
The Warriors won Games 1 and 2 without much from him and that script remained as they lost Games 3 and 4.
But when Thompson shoots efficiently, it’s extremely difficult to beat the Warriors. The Rockets rediscovered that in Game 5.
Maybe Thompson took another dip in the ocean. Or perhaps he locked himself in the gym until the nets started to shred.
The defense rarely rested: When they held the explosive Rockets 17 points in the first quarter – and one field goal over the final 6:48 – that was a sign. The defense was going to be a presence.
There was no indication of the lethargy and poor fundamentals that resulted in a whopping 27-rebound deficit over Games 3 and 4 in Houston. The Warriors held the Rockets to 41.8-percent shooting, including 29.3 percent from deep.
The Warriors own three of the last four NBA titles because, above all, they brought championship-level defense whenever it was needed. That was the case in Game 5.
The shooters shot well enough, but defense was the primary source behind the Warriors pulling this one out.