UPDATE 10:50 P.M. — James Harden, the league’s MVP runner-up, got hot in the fourth quarter to help lift the Rockets from a 9-point deficit and tie the game late in the final minutes.
Houston lost a 16-point lead and a chance to steal home-court advantage to steady shooting from Warriors sharpshooter Steph Curry, the league’s MVP, and timely contributions from Shaun Livingston.
The Rockets also lost star center Dwight Howard to a knee injury.
Curry scored 34 points and outdueled Harden down the stretch with Howard relegated to spectator status and the Warriors beat the Rockets 110-106 on Tuesday night.
“Game 1 slipped away from us,” Harden said. “We had several opportunities to win the game, didn’t happen.”
Howard hurt his left knee in a first-quarter collision with teammate Josh Smith. He tried to come back into the game in the second quarter but lacked his usual athleticism because of the injury and eventually left the game for good with a bruise less than a minute into the fourth.
“It was very painful,” Howard said. “I tried to play it off as much as possible but I couldn’t give my teammates what I need to give them. It was disappointing, frustrating. But it’s a long series.”
With Howard spending so much time on the bench, both teams used smaller lineups for much of the game and that played right into Golden State’s hands.
The Warriors went to it at first in the second quarter after Houston built a 16-point lead. Using the lineup with Draymond Green at center, Golden State closed the first half on a 21-4 run to take a three-point lead.
Harden, serenaded with chants of “Over-rated!” from Warriors fans, mixed in a series of step-back jumpers and driving layups to help Houston even the score at 95-all midway through the fourth. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.
But the Warriors shut down Houston for long stretches, and Curry kept hitting shots. He connected on a 3-pointer and converted a layup to put Golden State up 108-97 with 2:01 remaining.
The Rockets never relented, though, with Trevor Ariza making a 3-pointer that trimmed the Warriors’ lead to 108-106 with 14.6 seconds to play.
Curry twice caught the inbounds pass, and the Rockets were forced to foul him both times. He hit both free throws to seal Golden State’s win.
“It’s entertaining basketball. We’re both supposed to help our team win and do what we can to impact the game,” Curry said.
Curry added six rebounds and five assists, Shaun Livingston had 18 points, and Green had 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to boost the Warriors when they needed it most.
Livingston sparked the comeback with 14 points in the quarter and Curry capped the spurt with a step-back 20-footer that sent the crowd roaring even louder.
Game 2 is Thursday night in Oakland.
— Jason Appelbaum (@JasonAppelbaum1) May 20, 2015
UPDATE 8:00 P.M. — PHOTO GALLERY LINK: http://interactives.kron4.com/photomojo/gallery/19631/1/western-final-game-1/warriors-vs.-rockets/
DAMN that Warrior crowd is loud. Everyone should thank LIVINGSTON for bringing them back. 4th promises to be fun!
— Gary Radnich (@KRON4GRadnich) May 20, 2015
UPDATE 7:15 P.M. — The Warriors, down by 15 points, go on a 25-6 run to close the half. Shaun Livingston played a big role for the Warriors in the first half. The point guard pitched in 16 points for the Dubs on 5-for-6 shooting. Steph Curry has 13 points, and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson has 11 points through the first half.
The Warriors defense struggled early but managed to stop the Rockets offense in the final 7 minutes of the half when they rallied back to take the lead. The team were to contain star guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard to 7 points each to end the half.
WESTERN FINALS UPDATE: Stay with KRON 4 for Game 1 updates, notes, photos and more.
OAKLAND (KRON) — Talk about NBA’s MVP was settled days ago when Warriors’ Steph Curry raised his award in an emotional ceremony in Oakland — then again in front of a sold out arena before Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against Memphis.
But starting Tuesday night in Oakland, the world will see the top-seeded Golden State Warriors and the league’s Most Valuable Player take on the Houston Rockets and MVP runner-up James Harden, the team’s bearded star, in a best-of-seven series for the Western Conference crown.
“I’ve had a chip on my shoulder all year,” he told ESPN’s Arash Markazi. “That’s how I approach every game. It’s no different now.”
Curry received 100 of 130 first-place votes for a total of 1,198 points from a panel of 129 writers and broadcasters, along with the fan vote on the NBA’s website. Harden had 25 first-place votes and 936 points. Cleveland’s LeBron James, a four-time MVP, got five first-place votes and 552 points.
The Baby-Faced Assassin starring opposite the Bearded One is a scintillating subplot to a series that should feature a frenetic pace and a ton of 3-point shots. But when the ball is tossed amid a sea of screaming fans in golden-yellow shirts at Oracle Arena, only one thing will be on the minds of the leading men.
“We’re four wins away from getting to the Finals and one step closer to our dream,” Curry said. “There’s one team in our way to get there. That’s it.”
The Warriors went 4-0 against the Rockets in the regular season, winning by an average of 15.3 points. But a lot has changed for Houston since the teams last played Jan. 21.
“We’re a new team,” Harden said. “It’s a new series.”
THREE BALL: The Warriors and Rockets made more 3-pointers than any team in the NBA during the regular season, and they haven’t slowed down in the playoffs. They’re averaging nearly 30 attempts per game, with the Warriors shooting a postseason-high 40 percent and the Rockets just under 35 percent from beyond the arc. Which team shoots it best from long range — and can stop the other — will be a major factor in this series.
TWO-WAY THOMPSON: Klay Thompson is often touted as the league’s best two-way shooting guard, a player who can score at will and dominate on defense. The Warriors will lean on Thompson to harass Harden, who averaged 25.3 points, 5.3 assists and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 40 percent against Golden State in the regular season. Harden also had a hard time stopping Thompson, who averaged 21.8 points against Houston.
HACK-A-HOWARD: Don’t expect Golden State to intentionally foul Howard the way the Clippers and Mavericks have in the first two series. Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes the strategy disrupts his team’s flow and fast pace. But with Howard shooting 41.3 percent on free throws in the playoffs, Kerr could employ the approach in certain situations. Of course, Rockets coach Kevin McHale could return the favor. Warriors center Andrew Bogut shot 52.4 percent from the line in the regular season and is just 1 for 4 in the playoffs.
THE OTHER GUYS: Both teams have counted on their depth to get this far. The Warriors bring former All-Stars Andre Iguodala and David Lee and veterans Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa off the bench. Forward Marreese Speights is out for Game 1 with a strained right calf but could return later in the series. The Rockets played half the season without Howard and have gotten big performances in the playoffs from reserves Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni and Terrence Jones.
HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE: If the Rockets want to advance to the NBA Finals, they’ll need to win at least one game — and probably two — on Golden State’s home floor. That’s been the toughest task in the league this season. The Warriors are 43-3 at raucous Oracle Arena, including a Game 2 loss in their last series against Memphis. The Rockets last won in Oakland on Dec. 13, 2013.
The Associated Press and AP sports writers Josh Dubow and Kristie Rieken contributed to this story.