Golden State Warriors seal Western Conference finals place
The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets, 118-113, on Friday night to clinch a contentious Western Conference semifinal series many saw as the de facto N.B.A. finals.
The Warriors, who played without their injured star Kevin Durant, persevered on the road to close out a tightly contested series, four games to two. In doing so, Golden State kept alive its dream of winning three straight N.B.A. championships — and its fourth in five years.
Stephen Curry, after going scoreless for the Warriors in the first half, erupted for 33 points in the second, and Klay Thompson was terrific throughout, finishing with 27 points while shooting 7 of 13 from 3-point range — including one that essentially sealed the win in the final minute.
The Splash Brothers, as the two are known, came through when it mattered most. James Harden had 35 points in the loss for Houston, and Chris Paul added 27 points after struggling for much of the series. But that was not enough.
The Warriors, the top seed in the West, will face the Denver Nuggets or the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference finals. The Nuggets and Blazers are tied at three games apiece in their semifinal series, with Game 7 scheduled for Sunday in Denver.
No matter which team emerges, it is widely thought that the Warriors, in beating the Rockets, have dislodged their only true obstacle to winning yet another championship. None of the games in their series was decided by more than 6 points.
The Warriors have not often been underestimated since they began their run of dominance. But it was unclear how they would cope without Durant, who had been a particularly outsize presence in these playoffs, averaging 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
Late in the third quarter of Wednesday’s Game 5, Durant strained his right calf after attempting a jump shot, and he immediately left for the locker room. The Warriors surged to a pivotal win without him, then kept their momentum going in Houston on Friday.
The Warriors have said that Durant, who was named the most valuable player of the last two N.B.A. finals, will be re-evaluated next week, but it seems unlikely that he will be ready to return in time for the start of the conference finals on Tuesday.
For Houston, the loss was the latest blow to its efforts to topple the defending champions and win the franchise’s first N.B.A. title since 1995. Last season, the Rockets stretched the Warriors to the limit in the conference finals, losing the series in seven games.
After Durant went down, the Rockets appeared to have the Warriors on the ropes again. But Houston could not capitalize behind Harden, its high-octane guard.
Harden, a favorite to repeat as the N.B.A.’s most valuable player, dominated countless opponents this season and frustrated the Warriors by continually drawing fouls on 3-point shots.
Golden State tried to limit his effectiveness by throwing multiple defenders at him. Harden nevertheless was averaging 34.8 points through the first five games of the series.
But even that was not enough against the Warriors, who ultimately imposed their will, as they have done time and again the last five seasons.