OAKLAND – Daryl Morey did just about everything within his general manager powers to bridge the gap between his Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors over the summer.
He pulled off a stunning trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that partnered perennial MVP candidate James Harden with a fellow future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul. He added gritty and versatile defenders in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker, then re-signed Nene after the veteran big man showed his worth in their most recent playoff run. Yet for much of Tuesday night’s season opener between the two Western Conference rivals, it looked as if adding Nick Young, of all free agents, would have been the way to go.
Alas, Tucker and the most unexpected of Rockets lineups recovered and Houston pulled off a season-opening stunner to spoil the defending champion’s ring night at Oracle Arena, 122-121.
Tucker grabbed a key offensive rebound and hit a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left to put the Rockets ahead after they trailed by as many as 17 points, and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant had his game-winning jumper called off when replay showed that he released too late.
Durant had received the tip from Shaun Livingston on the left side, pump-faked and smoothly buried the mid-range shot to send the sellout crowd into hysterics. But after the officiating crew reviewed the play, the Rockets would dance off the floor with a celebration of their own in the very space where the Warriors had been handed rings for the second time in three years by Commissioner Adam Silver earlier in the evening.
With Paul on the bench for the last 4:47 of play, the Rockets finished the game on a 13-7 run. Tucker, who played last season in Toronto and was given a four-year, $32 million deal by the Rockets with the hope that he’d have these kinds of X-factor outings, finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Harden had 27 points and 10 assists, while reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Eric Gordon, had 24 points. Paul, who had struggled so mightily to take down these Warriors in his last years with the Los Angeles Clippers before deciding to depart, had just four points (on 2 of 9 shooting), 11 assists and eight rebounds in his Rockets debut.
Young, the affable 32-year-old known as “Swaggy P” who was such an unexpected addition to the defending champion’s roster in July after he spent the last four seasons with the Lakers, scored 23 points while hitting eight of nine shots in his Warriors debut (6 of 7 from three-point range). But despite his production, and thanks largely to the fourth-quarter absence of Warriors forward Draymond Green (knee strain) that led to a 34-point Rockets final period (to the Warriors’ 20), Houston was able to down this team that has dominated them for so many years now.
Entering play, the Rockets had fallen to the Warriors in 19 of 24 games since the start of the 2013-14 season (including eight losses in 10 tries during the postseason). The Warriors, who were without super sixth man Andre Iguodala (back), saw their superstar trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant combine for just 58 points.