After all his made buckets that led up to the final moments, it was Stephen Curry's defense that finally won Game 2 for the Warriors, 99-98, on Thursday. James Harden couldn't get a clean look for a potentially game-winning shot and Golden State now heads to Houston up, 2-0, in a series that has been as closely contested as a series can be.
Harden -- and probably everyone else -- will analyze the final moments to oblivion on what he could have done, but he was the reason the Rockets were in the game to start with and his defense on back-to-back possessions had forced an eight-second violation and then the ball out of Curry's hands that resulting in the potentially game-winning possession that he bobbled away.
The entire game was about the two MVPs trading blows back and forth. Harden, just like the regular season, fell short of Curry by a microscopic margin and that was all it took for the regular season's best team to take a 2-0 lead. Give them an inch and the Warriors will pounce on you. They've done it all season and Thursday was no different.
For the game, Harden nearly recorded a triple double with 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but it fell just shy of Curry's 33 points, six assists and the several shots just like this down the stretch of the fourth quarter that were basically impossible to guard.
The Warriors came out guns blazing in the first quarter, showing all of the qualities that brought them to 67 regular-season wins. Defense led to offense and Curry nailed four three-pointers in the first quarter alone. With 7:43 left in the quarter after Harrison Barnes nailed a triple, Golden State led by 17 points.
But if the Rockets have shown one thing these postseason, it's this: games they're involved in are never over. They came back in Game 3 against Dallas, made the historic recovery in Game 6 against the Clippers and dropped Game 1 against the Warriors despite holding a 16-point lead. By halftime, mainly thanks to Harden's brilliance, they had tied the game at 55.
Here's three things we learned.
1. The two MVPs seriously put on a show
Ignore the final possession. All game leading up to that, these two players were far and away the best in the universe. It was Curry first, nailing three-pointer after ridiculous three-pointer. He is one shy of Reggie Miller's playoff record for made triples in a postseason in 10 FEWER games, nailing five total in the game.
Harden isn't the MVP, but in another season, he could have been. He had a season that was absolutely deserving of the award. It's not his fault Curry was better by the narrowest of margins, but on a single stage against each other, Harden could earn his "revenge." He assisted or scored 19 straight points for Houston as they worked their way back into the game in the second quarter, saving his team from what looked to be a blowout.
2. Dwight Howard was actually really good!
About 30 minutes before the game, we weren't even sure if Howard was playing. He clearly wasn't 100 percent at all times, but despite the health concerns, Howard was still able to post a crazy double-double of 19 points and 17 rebounds. Howard has missed large portions of the last two seasons, but his yeoman work on Thursday has to be respected.
3. Andrew Bogut made an impact early
Bogut barely made an impact in Game 1, playing 16 minutes without scoring a point as the Warriors went super small. In Game 2, it was almost like he couldn't wait to make up for the lackluster showing. In the first few minutes, he did the following things:
- After a turnover, Bogut played flawless man defense on Josh Smith on the perimeter, forcing him to take a wild hook shot of sorts that wasn't close.
- In the half court, Bogut beat Dwight Howard OFF THE DRIBBLE for a foul.
- Off a gorgeous Curry pass, Bogut threw down this alley oop.
- And then there's this removal of a Harden layup attempt.