(Reuters) - The Golden State Warriors survived a stirring James Harden-inspired fightback to take command of the Western Conference Final with a 99-98 Game Two victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday.
Harden was close to unstoppable as he scored 38 points and rallied his team from an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes but all his hard work was undone when he slipped and lost the ball as time expired, unable to get a shot away.
This season’s MVP runner-up scored 10 of his team’s final 12 points and added 10 rebounds and nine assists but again had to accept second billing to Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
Curry finished with 33 points and teamed with backcourt mate Klay Thompson to swarm Harden on the final play, lifting the Warriors to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I knew Klay had (Harden) squared up, I wanted to protect (Harden’s) left and I was able to stand him up,” Curry told reporters. “That’s just determination. (Harden’s) making great plays and it takes a total team effort to guard him.”
Thompson added 13 points and Andrew Bogut put up 14 for the Warriors, who are two wins away from reaching their first NBA Finals since 1975.
Game Three is in Houston on Saturday, where a desperately disappointed Rockets will need to quickly regroup to climb back into the series.
Houston, though, are no strangers to comebacks this postseason, erasing a sizeable Game Six lead by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the playoffs, where they rallied to win the series despite trailing 3-1.
Houston started slowly, falling 17 points behind in the second quarter before rallying to tie the contest by halftime.
Center Dwight Howard recorded 19 points and 17 rebounds after leaving Game One with a knee injury, his presence helping to ease Harden’s workload in a fast-paced encounter.
On the final play of the game, Harden pulled down a rebound and dribbled up the floor as the Rockets elected not to call a timeout. After receiving a pass back from Howard, he ran into a fatal double team that caused him to lose control of the ball and end up falling to the ground as the final buzzer sounded.
“I’m kicking chairs (in the locker room after the game). It’s frustrating to give the game away like that,” Harden said. “We let two slip away. Now we’re going home.”
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien