HOUSTON —James Harden had 36 points and 13 assists and the Houston Rockets routed Golden State 129-112 on Wednesday night, sending the short-handed Warriors to their sixth loss in eight games this season.
Harden again appeared to be moving past his early shooting woes, going 6 of 16 from 3-point range. Since going 17 of 79 on 3s in his first six games, Harden has made 13 of 32 the last two.
Already reeling from injuries to Splash Brothers Stephen Curry (broken hand) and Klay Thompson (knee surgery) and the loss of Kevin Durant, the Warriors were without D'Angelo Russell (sprained right ankle) and Draymond Green (torn ligament in left index finger) for a third straight game. Russell, who sat on the Golden State bench, could return Friday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Houston and Golden State entered the game ranked 29th and 28th in the league in points allowed, giving up an average of 123.1 and 120.4 points per game, respectively. Neither team had played a game so far this season where they held their opponent below triple digits.
Both teams struggled with their shooting for spurts of the first half, but late in the second quarter, Harden drilled a deep 3-pointer where he was also fouled. That shot fired up both Harden and the Toyota Center crowd, including rapper Travis Scott, who was sitting courtside.
Houston led 63-52 at the half, thanks in large part to Harden’s 24 first-half points, but also Golden State’s 38.8% shooting from the field.
There were seven lead changes in the first half before Houston started to pull away.
To open up the second half, the Rockets held the Warriors to just three field goals in the first seven minutes of the third quarter and built a lead as large as 23 points. They entered the fourth quarter leading 98-83.
Three Things to Know: Warriors’ season was already broken, Curry’s hand clarifies new reality
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Warriors season was already broken before Stephen Curry broke his hand. Now the path forward is clear. Before this latest in a string of unfathomable injuries, Golden State’s season was already broken.
This is a team that already didn’t look near the class of the Clippers, then lost by 28 to a team that traded away Russell Westbrook and Paul George last summer, and had already given up a 30-1 run to upstart Phoenix. The plan of just holding on until Klay Thompson got back already looked doomed — the Warriors weren’t winning, and it’s unlikely Thompson is back anyway.
A CT scan will determine if Stephen Curry will need surgery, or if he just goes in a cast. Either way, this likely sidelines Curry for at least a couple of months. Think after Christmas, closer to New Year’s Day (and surgery could mean a longer time away).
The basketball gods have unleashed their wrath on the Warriors.
Maybe, however, this is exactly what the Warriors need. It forces an adjustment they were not ready or willing to make.
Golden State is a lottery team now. They already were — based on early season results — but now there is no escaping it. By the time Curry returns, the Warriors will be in a hole they cannot dig out of. Not in a deep West.
The pressure is off the Warriors now, the expectations are gone. Don’t sit Draymond Green if he’s healthy, but make sure he gets and stays healthy (he had an elbow issue suffered against the Suns). Make sure Looney gets right.
Turn D’Angelo Russell loose and let him run the show, watch him rack up numbers, then if teams start calling before the trade deadline next February, listen. See if there is a more natural fit next to Curry and Thompson.
If the losses pile up, so what? Get whatever the lottery ping-pong balls give you — this is not the same situation as the 1996-97 Spurs (the Tim Duncan draft), it’s a very different lottery and league, but you never know. Add a quality young player. Retool for next season when Curry, Thompson, Green, and Looney are healthy and there can be a young core around them that is a little more seasoned and fits better.
These Warriors were already broken. Watching them made that clear. Curry’s broken hand forces them into a new reality, but a path that ultimately should be better for the Warriors long term.
It turned nasty. Entertaining, but nasty. KAT mocked Embiid for crying after a second-round playoff loss, Embiid noted Towns has never been to the second round, and it went from there. Because￼ someone has to show some restraint, I’ll just say you can check the players out on social media if you want to follow along.
Multi-game suspensions are coming for both Embiid and Towns, and the social media sparring is not exactly going to invite leniency from the league. Maybe Towns gets one more game than Embiid — he appears to be first to escalate this from just a shoving match — but both are going to be out for games. Plural.
There are also questions about whether Ben Simmons will get suspended, or if anyone left the benches, or anything else that could lead to suspensions and fines.￼
Both teams have been off to a hot start, and both are going to feel the pain from this fight because they will be without their best players for a while.
3) James Harden drops 59 and Rockets still only win by one. This ended up being the third-highest scoring game in NBA history — a history that includes Doug Moe’s Nuggets teams. This was a throwback, defense optional, shootout for the ages.
James Harden’s 59th point came on a free throw with two seconds left that won the game for Houston over Washington, 159-158. Here’s the foul that led to those free throws — it’s vintage Harden in that he creates contact then sells it to make sure the call comes.
Bradley Beal had 46 points on 14-of-20 shooting, and Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura showed out with 23 points (he is off to an impressive start this season, beyond just this game).
Going into training camp, Alfonzo McKinnie was expected to be the starting small forward for the Warriors this season.
However, injuries along the front line — Willie Cauley-Stein is out for weeks still, plus Kevon Looney and rookie Alen Smailagic are banged up — and some strong play from Marquise Chriss meant he was going to make the Warriors roster. With the team being hard capped after signing D'Angelo Russell this summer, the Warriors had no choice but to cut McKinnie.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have snapped him up off waivers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are claiming former Warriors forward Alfonzo McKinnie off free agency waivers, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA@Stadium.
This is a good move by the Cavaliers, a low-risk pickup — McKinnie is on a minimum contract — that could get them a 3&D wing on a young team. He played in 72 games for the Warriors last regular season plus got playoff minutes, and shot 35.6 percent from three. He’s long and athletic and a player both the Raptors and Warriors liked but had to move on from because of other roster situations.
The Warriors had enough roster spots for both players. They just couldn’t afford both under the hard cap.
This puts a significant dent in Golden State’s depth at small forward. Glenn Robinson III will likely start after overtaking McKinnie, who entered the preseason as favorite to land that job. The backup options are grim. Alec Burks? He’s undersized, frequently injured and currently banged up. Jordan Poole? He’s even smaller and just a rookie.
But the Warriors also needed another big with Kevon Looney and Willie-Cauley Stein hurt. That’s where Chriss steps in.
The No. 8 pick just three years ago, Chriss struggled with the Suns, Rockets and Cavaliers. But he has looked better in Golden State and is just 22. He has the raw tools to develop into a helpful player.
With a minimum salary, McKinnie could get claimed on waivers by anyone. Many teams could use him – ironically, perhaps none more than the Warriors.
They might view themselves as a championship contender. They have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. If Klay Thompson gets healthy by the playoffs, that’s an excellent trio. Russell could add value on the court or via trade.
But the hard cap and resulting depth problems are real a issue.