OAKLAND—The streaking Golden State Warriors shook off an ankle injury to superstar Stephen Curry to thrash the Houston Rockets 104-78 on Saturday in their NBA Western Conference playoff opener.
The reigning champion Warriors picked up where they left off in their record-setting 73-win regular-season campaign, bolting to a 33-15 lead through one quarter and carrying on relentlessly from there.
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Curry sent a tremor of tension through Oracle Arena when he twisted his right ankle defending Rockets star James Harden late in the second quarter.
Curry went to the locker room for treatment and played briefly early in the third period before coach Steve Kerr called a timeout and took him out of the contest.
Curry visited the locker room again, and though he returned to the bench for the fourth quarter he didn’t play again.
Kerr said he didn’t know the severity of the injury, calling Curry “questionable” for game two on Monday, saying he wouldn’t take chances with his star with the championship finals still a long way away in June.
Team-mate Klay Thompson thought Kerr’s caution was overdone.
“He’ll be all right,” Thompson said of Curry. “We expect him out here on Monday.”
Curry inflicted significant damage before his departure. His 24 points included 16 in the first quarter.
In a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals, Golden State harried Houston from tip-off, with frustrated Rockets point guard Patrick Beverly scuffling with Curry less than six minutes into the contest.
“That’s to be expected,” Kerr said. “It’s the playoffs. Both guys are competitive. Beverly is a good defender, that’s what he does, he tries to get under your skin. He’s just doing his job.”
The Warriors answered with two three-pointers from Curry in a 14-6 scoring run, limiting Houston to six-of-20 shooting in the opening frame.
The Warriors led 60-33 by halftime, and held Harden to four points before the break.
Harden, second to Curry in regular-season scoring with an average 29 points per game, perked up after the interval, hitting three three-pointers to finish with 17 points, but he didn’t get to the free-throw line once.
“Very satisfied,” Kerr said. “I thought our defense was excellent. We made them earn every point.”
Draymond Green, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Warriors, received the third technical foul of the contest in the fourth quarter for pulling Rockets big man Donata Motiejunas down from behind.
“It’s the playoffs,” Kerr said again.
The winner of the best-of-seven series face either the Los Angeles Clippers or Portland Trail Blazers in the second round.
Western Conference action continued later Saturday with the third-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder hosting the Dallas Mavericks.
Second-seeded San Antonio launch their campaign on Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Meanwhile, Paul George scored 33 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 100-90 victory over the second-seeded Raptors in Toronto on Saturday in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
It was a dispiriting start to the post-season for the Raptors, who notched a franchise-record 56 regular season victories to win a third straight Atlantic Division title — achievements that will count for little if they can’t win a seven-game playoff series for the first time in club history.
Their only playoff series win was in a best-of-five first-round set in 2001.
Toronto’s All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both struggled, Lowry connecting on just three of 13 attempts from the field while DeRozan made five of 19 shots.
DeRozan insisted the Raptors were “not panicking”.
“We understand, we just had a bad game,” DeRozan said. “We shot 38 percent, turned the ball over and missed 12 free throws. They took advantage of it, got hot in the second half.”
Toronto led by two points at halftime, but the Pacers were up by three going into the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to 17 points from George in the third.
George said he watched video at halftime, trying to come up with a better approach.
“I knew I was going to be able to get some good looks and I just had to be smarter about how I took them,” he said.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel called George “The biggest reason we won”.
“Paul’s shot-making at the end of the game was spectacular,” Vogel said.
With 2:36 to play George’s pull-up jump shot — after a turnover by Lowry — gave the Pacers an eight-point lead. A three-pointer by guard Monta Ellis made it 95-82 for Indiana with 1:49 remaining.
Ellis finished with 15 points for the Pacers, who hadn’t won at Air Canada Centre since March of 2013.
The second game of the best-of-seven series will be on Monday in Toronto.
The winner of the series will play either Miami or Charlotte, who open their set on Sunday, when Eastern Conference top seeds Cleveland host Detroit.
Later Saturday, the Hawks host the Boston Celtics in Atlanta. After earning the top seed in the East last season the Hawks are seeded fourth this year, and face a tough matchup with the fifth-seeded Celtics.
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