For a moment, the unthinkable seemed inevitable.
The Houston Rockets, playing without injured All-Star point guard Chris Paul, waltzed into Golden State Saturday and punched the Warriors in the mouth to the tune of a 39-22 first-quarter lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
The team that was built precisely to outgun Golden State four times in a playoff series couldn’t miss in a game nobody thought they could win.
In the end, they couldn’t. The Warriors bounced back with a solid second quarter before unloading a second-half onslaught that sucked the life out of the Rockets in a 115-86 win to force a Game 7 on Monday in Houston with an NBA Finals berth at stake.
The team that opened in Las Vegas as remarkable preseason 5-8 favorites to win the title looked as good as advertised. Golden State outscored Houston 33-16 in the third quarter and kept on the gas for a 31-9 fourth quarter to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a 29-point win.
It was a stunning collapse for Houston, one that SB Nation put into perspective with this chart.
Golden State’s stars did as they were supposed to with Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry taking turns hitting big shots and filling up the box score.
Thompson, who has struggled for much of the series, was big throughout, finally finding his stroke to the tune of 35 points on 9-of-14 shooting from 3-point range while adding six rebounds and four steals.
“I don’t know if I was born for it, but I’ve definitely worked my butt off to get to this point,” Thompson said of his history of stepping up in big games.
Klay's been ready for this moment for a long time.
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) May 27, 2018
Meanwhile, Curry was vintage Curry, dropping 29 points, six assists and five rebounds while hitting 5-of-14 3-pointers as Kevin Durant added 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Draymond Green, who guaranteed a series victory after Thursday’s Game 5 loss, didn’t score much, but he did about everything else on the court in typical Green fashion with four points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and five blocks.
Draymond did a bit of everything to help force Game 7, becoming the first player in #NBAPlayoffs history to record 4+ points, 10+ rebounds, 9+ assists, 4+ steals, and 5+ blocks!#NBAPlayoffs | #DubNation pic.twitter.com/YB5BxGHLvB
— NBA (@NBA) May 27, 2018
James Harden was fantastic early, posting 32 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. But like his Rockets teammates, he ran out of gas in the second half. After hitting 8-of-9 free throws in the first half, he didn’t go to the line again.
Eric Gordon filled in admirably for Paul in the starting lineup in the early stages of the game. While Harden handled most of the ball-handling duties, Gordon got hot from distance, hitting 4-of-6 three pointers while scoring eight of the Rockets’ first 10 points. But his night went like the rest of Houston’s. All four of his made 3-pointers came in the first half, while both of his misses came in the second. He finished with 19 points and a minus-27 in the plus/minus column.
Houston clearly missed its floor general, turning the ball over 21 times, compared to 12 for Golden State. Harden accounted for nine of those turnovers, while Gordon gave it away five times.
The Rockets ran a seven-man rotation until less than eight minutes remained in the game and obviously had little to give after halftime. Mike D’Antonio put Joe Johnson in the game for the first time with 7:37 remaining and the Warriors leading 94-79, an apparent white flag and a chance to get some rest his starters for Game 7.
“Nothing changes for us,” Harden said about approaching Game 7. “We’re still confident, we’re a confident group. We’ve just got one chance.”
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 27, 2018
In the end, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr mercifully pulled his starters at the 4:24 mark of the fourth quarter in a stunning turn that didn’t seem feasible when the Rockets opened up a 17-point first-quarter lead.
Golden State played its third straight game without starting forward Andre Iguodala, who is suffering a leg contusion. He called himself “questionable“ for Game 7 after the game. Kerr told reporters Golden State “is operating under the assumption that he will not play.”
On whether injured Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (leg) will play in Game 7 versus Houston, he said: “Questionable.”
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) May 27, 2018
Meanwhile, Paul, who sat Saturday with a hamstring strain suffered in Game 5 seems a long shot for Game 7.
On the chances of a Chris Paul comeback with right hamstring injury for Game 7, source tells ESPN: "Less likely than likely, but working every angle to try."
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 27, 2018
Any hope Houston has of returning to form seems to rest heavily on that injured hamstring.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Ramirez could come back to haunt the Red Sox
• Cavs’ Love ruled out for Game 7 vs. Celtics
• Unrecognizable ex-MLB star gets blocked by usher
• Poll: Fans overwhelmingly approve of NFL’s new anthem policy