Warriors ready for lift-off in semis

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson celebrating with fans after sinking a three-pointer in Wednesday's 114-81 play-off victory over the Houston Rockets. He made seven shots from behind the arc overall, finishing on 27 points to lead the reignin
Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson celebrating with fans after sinking a three-pointer in Wednesday's 114-81 play-off victory over the Houston Rockets. He made seven shots from behind the arc overall, finishing on 27 points to lead the reigning NBA champions.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Golden State take first-round series 4-1 after blowing out the Rockets with a team effort

OAKLAND (California) • The Golden State Warriors brushed off the unsettling absence of injured star Stephen Curry to demolish the Houston Rockets and advance to the next round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs.

The Warriors' hopes of retaining their NBA crown received a blow last Sunday after Curry was sidelined for at least two weeks with a sprained knee ligament.

However, they did enough in a 114-81 rout of the Rockets on Wednesday to remind their rivals that they remain a formidable outfit even without their key player.

The 4-1 series victory means the Warriors will face either the Portland Trail Blazers or the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Clippers next.

If the Trail Blazers, up 3-2 in the series, can finish off the Clippers at home today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time), their Western Conference semi-final will start on Sunday in Oakland.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who received his NBA Coach of the Year award just before tip off at the Oracle Arena, hailed his team's strength in depth after the win.

  • 16

  • Points scored by the veteran guard Shaun Livingston, Stephen Curry's replacement.

"Literally every single guy on our roster contributed during this series," he said.

That point was emphasised by the performance of Curry's replacement, veteran Shaun Livingston, who finished with 16 points.

Klay Thompson, so often overshadowed by Curry during the regular season, scored 27 points and went 7-of-11 from three-point range to lead the Warriors.

Draymond Green collected 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Warriors had 30 assists on 45 field goals.

Rockets guard James Harden scored a game-high 35 points. But the result was never in doubt after the Warriors sprinted into a 37-20 lead in the first quarter.

According to ESPN, Harden, who shot 12-for-13 from the field, was efficient, but he was one of the weak links on a defence that totally collapsed.

On offence, the Rockets were wholly dependent on Harden. His team-mates combined to shoot 26 per cent.

In contrast, Golden State proved again that they are more than a one-man team. And fans at the Oracle Arena drummed home that point, wearing matching gold T-shirts that read "Strength in Numbers" across the front.

That has been one of Kerr's mantras since he took the job before the start of last season, and it probably resonates with his players now more than ever.

"When you dominate the ball like that, that's one thing coach Kerr's really trying to teach us - move the ball, because it just creates rhythm," said Green, whose all-around prowess was on full display, pushing the pace on offence like few power forwards can.

Curry was a presence on the bench, albeit while wearing a beige blazer instead of a uniform. He walked with a slight limp.

Kerr said he was optimistic that the league's reigning Most Valuable Player would eventually rejoin the team in their hunt for a second straight title. But the Warriors almost surely will be without the guard for most, if not all, of their next best-of-seven series.

"We've won a lot of games the last couple years with various people out," Kerr said before the game, "and we've just got to keep doing it. There's no secret formula. It's just everybody being ready to play and ready to compete."

The Warriors may also be soon without assistant coach Luke Walton, after the the Los Angeles Lakers were given permission to speak to the 36-year-old over their vacant coaching job.

"We told Mitch that he is perfectly welcome to talk to Luke as soon as the series (against the Rockets) is over and we have a little break," Kerr said of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.

Should he join the Lakers, Walton would be reunited with a franchise where he spent the bulk of his playing career and was a member of two NBA title-winning teams.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'WARRIORS READY FOR LIFT-OFF IN SEMIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe