HOUSTON — Day after day, from opening night in Oakland onward, the anticipation raged on, a fire building toward an inferno. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the defending champion and its most legitimate threat — a tantalizing matchup featuring enough star wattage to power a city. Their collision seemed fated, inevitable, a playoff series that would define the postseason.
After so many months, the title contenders delivered a performance worthy of even the most outsized expectations Monday night at a pulsing Toyota Center packed with leather-lunged fans yelling themselves hoarse and in-house music that thumped like a Las Vegas nightclub.
The Warriors absorbed many blows from the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, but as they so often do, the Warriors used a second-half burst to pull away, leading to a 119-106 victory.
The game was tied at intermission, but then came the third quarter, where Golden State had outscored foes this postseason by a league-best 62 points entering the evening. And once again, the Warriors gained their strongest edge in the frame, claiming a seven-point lead when it ended.
In the fourth, the Rockets fought but could never whittle the deficit too far before the Warriors countered with a timely bucket. Warriors swingman Klay Thompson buried a key 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 55 seconds in the fourth quarter that pushed the Warriors’ lead back to 10 points. The Rockets never truly challenged from then on, particularly as the Warriors pulled away even more late, holding their largest lead — 14 points — in the final minutes.
Kevin Durant carried the Warriors with 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting. Thompson added 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Stephen Curry had something of an off-night with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but he added eight assists and six rebounds.
Draymond Green earned his fastest technical foul in any regular-season or postseason game, picking up one with 10:53 in the first quarter after shoving James Harden after Harden made an early layup over Durant. Green finished with five points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
Harden was blistering at the start, scoring nine points in the first two minutes, tied for the most he has ever scored in the first two minutes of any game in the regular season or postseason.
The NBA MVP front-runner finished with 41 points, his first game of 30 or more points against the Warriors since April 27, 2016. Chris Paul added 23 points and 11 assists for Houston.
Many statistical categories were near even, but the Warriors held decisive edges in fast-break points (18-3) and in points scored off turnovers (17-9).
Another crucial figure: The Warriors scored 54 points on uncontested looks, tying for their second-most this postseason and the most the Rockets have allowed in the playoffs this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Warriors made eight open 3-pointers, including Thompson’s dagger, and shot 23-of-31 on uncontested looks overall.
The Rockets, meanwhile, scored 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting on uncontested shots Monday.
The Warriors deployed their “Hamptons Five” starting lineup of Durant, Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Green, a unit that entered the game having outscored teams by 54 points in its 54 minutes on the court in the postseason.
But with Paul and Harden leading the charge, the Rockets matched the Warriors bucket for bucket — at least early on.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Houston.