HOUSTON -- Day after day, from opening night in Oakland onward, the anticipation raged on, a fire building toward an inferno. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the defending champion and its most legitimate threat, a tantalizing matchup featuring enough star wattage to power a city. Their collision seemed fated, inevitable, a playoff series that would define the postseason.
After so many months, the title contenders delivered a performance worthy of even the most outsized expectations Monday night at a pulsing Toyota Center packed with leather-lunged fans yelling themselves hoarse and in-house music that thumped like a Las Vegas nightclub.
The Warriors absorbed many blows from the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, but as they so often do, the Warriors used a second-half burst to pull away. The result: a 119-106 victory that swipes home-court advantage from the team that has spent much of the season priming for this matchup.
"We come into this series, we don't post stuff on the wall saying [the Rockets are] obsessed with us," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "We don't post stuff of them saying they're better than us. And we definitely don't come in with the mindset of stealing home court."
The game was tied at intermission, but then came the third quarter, when Golden State had outscored foes this postseason by a league-best 62 points entering the evening. Once again, the Warriors gained their strongest edge in the frame, claiming a seven-point lead by the time it ended.
In the fourth, the Rockets fought but could never whittle the deficit too far before the Warriors countered with a timely bucket. Warriors swingman Klay Thompson buried a key 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter to push the Warriors' lead back to 10 points. The Rockets never truly challenged from then on, particularly as the Warriors pulled away even more late, holding their largest lead -- 14 points -- in the final minutes.
Kevin Durant carried the Warriors with 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting. Thompson added 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Stephen Curry had something of an off-night with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but he added eight assists and six rebounds.
Green earned his fastest technical foul in any regular-season or postseason game, picking up one with 10:53 left in the first quarter after he shoved James Harden after Harden made a layup over Durant. Green finished with five points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
Harden was blistering at the start, scoring nine points in the first two minutes, tied for the most he has ever scored in the first two minutes of a game in the regular season or postseason. The NBA MVP front-runner finished with 41 points, his first game of 30 or more points against the Warriors since April 27, 2016. Chris Paul added 23 points and 11 rebounds for Houston.
"He needs about 55 next time, and that would take care of it," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni quipped. "I'll just have to tell him that."
Said Curry, "They tried to throw a heavy punch early. James hit some early shots. We didn't get rattled. That could've been the deciding moment right there. You could lose a game in the first half by abandoning your game plan just because they hit some tough shots or whatever the case is. We settled the game down."
Many statistical categories were nearly even, but the Warriors held decisive edges in fast-break points (18-3) and points off turnovers (17-9).
Another crucial figure: The Warriors scored 54 points on uncontested looks, tied for their second-most this postseason and the most the Rockets have allowed in the playoffs this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Warriors made eight open 3-pointers, including Thompson's dagger, and shot 23-of-31 on uncontested looks overall.
The Rockets, meanwhile, scored 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting on uncontested shots Monday.
"There's just too many times we had just mental lapses," D'Antoni said. "We either didn't switch properly, or we didn't switch hard enough. We turned the ball over a little bit too much. Every time we missed a layup, which we missed a lot of layups, they ran out. They're really devastating."
Another area of interest involved the isolation-heavy style Houston is known for. In fact, Durant thrived in isolation, making 10 of his 13 shots on such plays, compared to 4-of-14 shooting on plays without isolation, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Rockets, meanwhile, shot just 12-of-18 combined on isolation plays.
"We want to keep the ball moving," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "But obviously, Kevin is the ultimate luxury because a play can break down, and you just throw him the ball. He can get you a bucket as well as anybody on earth."
When Harden or Paul was the primary defender, the Warriors shot 61 percent from the field (19-of-31), which was the highest such percentage Harden and Paul have allowed this postseason.
"There were a couple times where we didn't guard anybody, and they got a dunk or an open 3," Harden said. "That can't happen."
The Warriors deployed their "Hamptons Five" starting lineup of Durant, Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Green, a unit that entered the game having outscored teams by 54 points in its 54 minutes on the court in the postseason.
Yet that lineup wasn't too effective early, as they were outscored by the Rockets by eight in the first half. In the second half, that lineup outscored Houston by 10.
But for as much as the Rockets fought, their defense faltered.
"Defensively, we've got to be better," Paul said. "You know, it's funny. I got caught helping a couple times in the first half, and I think Nick Young hit three 3s on those plays. Some games, some series, you may make those mistakes, and guys don't make the shots."
But the Warriors are different and have now won a road game in 18 straight postseason series.
"It was a great win, but this series is far from over," Thompson said. "It's natural to relax, but we're not going to relax. We're still not where we want to be, and we've got a long way to go."
Said Durant: "I don't know if we're at our peak. I think we could be better."
Game 2 is Wednesday in Houston.