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Warriors pound Rockets in Game 1 blowout, 104-78

OAKLAND - A gimpy ankle stopped Stephen Curry on Saturday at Oracle Arena. It was something the Houston Rockets couldn’t hope to do.

Curry scored 24 points in just under 20 minutes of action, sparking the Warriors to a 104-78 win in Game 1 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series. He seemed to be on his way to another extended highlight reel until he “tweaked” his right ankle - that was the team’s official term for the injury - when he slipped while trying to get back on defense late in the first half.

When Golden State coach Steve Kerr wrote the names of his five second-half starters on the board at halftime, Curry was “incredulous,” as Kerr put it, to find his name wasn’t among them.

Curry convinced his coach he was okay to keep playing, but he was on the court for just another 2 minutes, 47 seconds before Kerr decided he wasn’t seeing enough mobility.

With the Warriors enjoying a comfortable lead, Curry did not return.

“I didn’t like the way he was moving when we went back out in the third quarter,” Kerr said afterward. “He wanted to stay in but he wasn’t moving well, so we weren’t gonna play him regardless.”

Curry said he tried on three separate occasions to convince Kerr to put him back in the game. He even got assistant coaches Luke Walton and Bruce Fraser to help his lobbying effort.

“We all swung and missed,” Curry said.

The reigning NBA most valuable player limped a bit when he descended the podium in the post-game auditorium, but said he couldn’t envision a scenario where he wouldn’t play here in Game 2 on Monday night. Kerr said the Warriors would evaluate Curry over the next two days before making that decision.

Curry’s tweakage would have been a major issue if this were a more even matchup. It wasn’t. A year ago, these teams faced off in the conference finals. This year, the Rockets barely sneaked into the playoffs while the Warriors racked up a 73-9 record, the best in NBA history.

The difference showed Saturday as Golden State raced to a 20-6 lead, built its advantage to 60-33 by halftime and expanded the margin to as many as 29 points - the Warriors’ largest postseason lead in the shot clock era. The Rockets did chip away in the third quarter and trimmed their deficit to 15 points, 73-58, on a Trevor Ariza 3-pointer. But the Warriors scored nine consecutive points after that to find some breathing room.

When Curry left the game, the Warriors were up by 26 points. They won by the same amount, a testament to their bench.

Backup point guard Shaun Livingston played almost 25 minutes in Curry’s absence and scored nine points. Reserve power forward Marreese Speights had 12 points in 15 minutes. Swingman Andre Iguodala dished out seven assists, and center Festus Ezeli grabbed six rebounds.

“It sucks to watch, obviously, especially in the playoffs,” Curry said. “You want to be out there playing. I felt like a kid in a timeout over there on the bench. I probably didn’t have a great face, frustrated because the action’s right there in front of me but I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. But those guys did their job down the stretch.”

Kerr had special praise for Iguodala, noting that the veteran had a +23 plus/minus on the final stat sheet though he scored just two points.

The Warriors, known for their splashy outside shooting, won this one with defense.

Houston star James Harden finished second to Curry in scoring this season, but he picked up his fourth foul in the second quarter and went into halftime with just four points.

Harden finished with a team-high 17, but he did it on 7-of-19 shooting, with Klay Thompson and Iguodala doing most of the guarding.

Most impressive, Harden, who generally makes his living at the line, didn’t attempt a single free throw against the Warriors.

“I’m just seeing that,” Livingston said, glancing at the stat sheet. “I think you’ve got to give credit to the coaching staff, and then the discipline starting with Klay and Andre. … When he’s coming through the lane, it’s hard. He’s showing you the candy, showing you the ball and it’s easy to want to reach in. He’s the best we have in our league getting to the free-throw line.”

The Rockets had been playing better down the stretch of the regular season, but they regressed into a sloppy offensive flow Saturday and shot just 35.9 percent from the floor in losing for the 13th time in their past 14 games against the Warriors.

Afterward, Houston center Dwight Howard was asked how his team can regain its efficiency in little more than 48 hours.

“Well, we’ve got one choice,” he said. “You do it or lose.”

This was a chippy game. Curry and Houston guard Patrick Beverley got their arms tangled in the first quarter and wound up pushing each other away. The officials assessed a double technical. Beverley was booed lustily by the Oakland fans for the remainder of the day.

In the fourth quarter, Howard fouled Iguodala hard; the Warriors wanted a flagrant foul on the play.

A little later, Draymond Green was assessed a technical after knocking down Houston 7-footer Donatas Motiejunas, who popped off the floor and headed toward Green before he was restrained by teammate Jason Terry. Still later, Motiejunas and Golden State forward Harrison Barnes went extracurricular under the Houston basket.

None of the Warriors accused the Rockets of playing dirty, but they certainly weren’t going to back down.

“As far as physical play, you have to match it or get run off the floor,” Green said. “You can’t let somebody push you around and you don’t push back. That’s the game we play. It’s an intense game, so if you don’t match that, then you’re in trouble.”

In Game 1, the Warriors matched - and exceeded - everything the Rockets had to offer.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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