HOUSTON (AP) — The Golden State Warriors, so used to making things look easy, overcame one of their toughest tests to return to the NBA Finals.
They climbed out of huge holes in the last two games of the Western Conference finals to beat Houston, but may have to play in the first half the way they have after halftime if they hope to knock off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and repeat as champions.
“They played a great series, they made us work for everything … I’m just proud of the way we battled,” Klay Thompson said. “We’ve been through a lot with this team, and believe it or not, it’s not all success with the Warriors.”
“We’ve got our bumps throughout the season,” he continued. “But to get to this point again, we earned it.”
Without Andre Iguodala again, the Warriors shook off another terrible first half in Game 7 on Monday night to rally for a 101-92 victory that made them the fifth team in NBA history to advance to the finals in four straight seasons.
Golden State trailed by 11 at halftime after being behind at the break by 10 points in Game 6, becoming the first team to win multiple elimination games in the same series when trailing by double digits after two quarters.
Coach Steve Kerr lamented that Golden State’s first half on Monday night was “one of the most bizarre first halves” his team has played since he’s been with the Warriors and joked that he thought of resigning at halftime before getting serious.
“Our talent took over,” Kerr said. “It’s as simple as that. We’ve got three of the best shot-makers in the league … we stayed with it.”
The trio — Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — combined to score 47 points in the second half to pull away from a Rockets team that missed 27 straight 3-pointers from the second quarter to the halfway mark of the fourth quarter.
“I think it was just a level of experience and maturity from our group that helped us get to the finish line,” Curry said.
The Warriors outlasted the Rockets despite missing Iguodala for the last four games with a bone bruise on his left leg. It’s unclear if the 2015 NBA Finals MVP will return for Game 1 on Thursday, but if he does it will give Golden State a boost in trying to slow down James.
While Golden State certainly isn’t happy the way it started the last two games, its ability to turn things around in the second half gives the Warriors confidence heading into the next challenge. The Warriors outscored Houston 122-63 in the second half of the final two games.
Houston gave them a much bigger test than the Warriors have had in quite some time and this series was their first with three losses since the Cavaliers won the 2016 finals 4-3.
“Just keeping our composure was big for us the entire series,” Curry said. “Whether we figured it out, win or lose, we showed a lot of fight, a lot of grit and resiliency to stay positive as we went through the series no matter what the situation was.”
Thompson was clear that the mistakes he made before halftime on Monday night won’t happen again. After scoring 35 points in Game 6, he collected three fouls in less than four minutes to force him to sit out most of the first quarter.
“I cannot do that next series, and that’s a big no-no,” he said. “Learned my lesson. Those guys are great at drawing fouls but I’ve got to be smarter than that. That really hurt. I hated not being out there when I was supposed to.”
Curry, before he could look forward to the finals, he took some time to reflect on what it took to get past the Rockets and appreciate the accomplishment of having another shot at the title.
“This was a part of our story that we hadn’t been through before,” he said. “Our backs against the wall, not having home-court advantage, needing to win two games to keep ourselves alive. This is a true testament to how hard it is to get to the finals, how hard it is to have a chance to play for a championship.”
By KRISTIE RIEKEN , AP Sports Writer