Rampaging Rockets give Warriors new source of motivation

Rampaging Rockets give Warriors new source of motivation originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Despite the lack of concern expressed by Draymond Green a few days ago, the Warriors are feeling the hot breath of the Houston Rockets.

No need to acknowledge the threat, though, to realize it might be the best thing to happen to a Golden State team that has loitered through a surprising number of games at the most important time of the season.

After dawdling through parts of the first half Tuesday night in Miami, the Warriors came out for the third quarter looking like a team desperate to wring all they could from what’s left of this tumultuous season.

The result was enough for the Warriors to overcome fabled Heat Culture and walk out of Kaseya Center with a 113-92 victory.

“Much better level of competitiveness in the second half,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Miami. "In the first half, they were making it difficult for us to get the ball across half court. They were playing really, really hard, and we didn't match that. In the second half, I thought we flipped that around.”

With a combination of offensive execution, defensive intensity and visible determination, the Warriors outscored the Heat 60-37 in the second half. They limited Miami – which was missing three starters, including six-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler – to 30.4 percent shooting in the pivotal third quarter.

“They kind of beat us to the loose balls in the first half,” said Warriors center Kevon Looney, who with Trayce Jackson-Davis out with right knee soreness played meaningful minutes for the first time in almost two weeks. “That kind of slowed down our pace. When we got out and ran in the second half because we were able to get stops. We were a lot more physical, and I think that changed the game.”

The win slightly tightens 10th-place Golden State’s suddenly tenuous grip on the fourth and final NBA play-in tournament berth in the Western Conference. The Rockets on Monday moved within one-half game of the Warriors, and this puts the margin back to a full game.

The Warriors performed like a team that seemed to fully grasp its reality. They’re much closer to missing the NBA playoffs than getting in. Credit the defense, mostly orchestrated by Green.

“We kept getting beat on back cuts, and whether they scored or not they were causing our defense to react,” Stephen Curry said of a first half in which the Heat shot 51.1 percent from the field. “That would open up either a three for somebody in the corner or cause a breakdown that would give them space. We got a little more disciplined in the second half.

“It’s the NBA. There’s so much talent out there. They’re missing a lot of guys, but if you give them confidence in their patterns, [they] start to attack, they’re lethal. I don’t care who is out there. We were much more disciplined in the second half to keep things in front of us, make them take tough shots. And you live with it.”

Golden State’s defense looked a lot more like the one that was the best in the league last month, leading to an 11-3 record. Not the defense that ranked 21st through the first 12 games this month and is the primary reason for losing seven of those games.

The Warriors sprinted into March on a mission before sabotaging their February surge with too many games in which they were indifferent or sloppy on defense. That is how, with 12 games remaining, they looked over their collective shoulder and saw the Rockets closer than they could ever have imagined.

The Warriors clearly want no part of finishing behind a rebuilding team like the Rockets. They believe they’re better than that, and they certainly should be.

The key now is the Warriors leaning into the pride they’ve earned over the years and more consistently bringing a level of urgency and desire that results in more performances like their dominating second half.

“Just play a brand of basketball like we did tonight,” Curry said. “We were, in the second half, a lot more disciplined, a lot more physical on defense. We took care of the basketball, which is a big deal for us the way that we play. Cut the turnovers down, created some really good looks.

“But we can't get you ahead of ourselves. Just take it ... a game at time. Honestly, that's our only way to get to where we want to go.”

Nobody among the Warriors had to mention the specter of the Rockets. Their actions spoke plenty. They might not be worried, as Green emphatically stated Sunday, but they certainly were motivated.

How long that will last is impossible to know with these Warriors, but the first hint will come Wednesday night against a very good Magic squad – in Orlando, where Golden State has not won since 2017.

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