Golden State Warriors kicked off the 2017-18 NBA season with a huge celebration of their 2017 NBA championship, and eager to start their pursuit of a 3rd title in four years. Come the end of opening night, though, it’d be the Houston Rockets celebrating, thanks to the slim margins and the length of Kevin Durant’s fingertips
With 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a wild season opener, the Warriors inbounded from half-court trailing the Rockets by one point which contributed to the final result of the game. Golden State guard Shaun Livingston dribbled into the frontcourt and got the ball to star Stephen Curry, who peeled away from the defense of Houston wing Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and hoisted a 3-pointer. His potential game-winner went long off the back rim, but Livingston won the loose ball and tap it over to Durant, who corralled it, avoided a swiping closeout from Houston star James Harden, rose up, fired and splashed down a baseline jumper.
And there you had it: a buzzer-beating game-winner by the reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, handing Golden State a 123-122 victory (what a victory). What a thrilling way to end the opening night, right?
The clock hit all zeroes and the red light flashed on with the ball still in Durant’s hand, meaning the shot didn’t count, not at all, allowing the Rockets to escape Oracle Arena with a 122-121 victory.
Houston earned every ounce of this one, withstanding a monster start that saw the defending champs come out blazing to the tune of 71 first-half points, including 20 in just under 14 minutes of floor time from new addition Nick Young.
The Warriors led by as many as 17 points in the first half of the game and by double figures for most of the third and looked to be well on their way to kicking off the season with a victory. But just before the end of the third quarter, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green pulled up lame after making contact on a drive to the basket.
Green had been brilliant to that point, putting up nine points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of work. But after he headed back to the locker room, the Warriors’ medical staff ruled him out for the remainder of the game with a left knee strain, removing the linchpin of Golden State’s defensive attack.
Combine the absence of Green (and veteran defensive ace Andre Iguodala) with a generally laissez-faire approach to the proceedings — before the start of the fourth quarter, Warriors coach Steve Kerr told TNT’s David Aldridge that his team wasn’t executing especially well, and was just getting by on shot-making and talent — and it seemed like the champs had left the door open for Houston to work its back into the game. And that’s exactly what happened midway through the fourth.
With Green out of the mix, the Rockets took the fight right to the Dubs. New star point guard Chris Paul canned a midrange jumper, then stole the ball from former teammate David West and fed Mbah a Moute for a 3. Mbah a Moute, not typically known for his work off the dribble, drove on West on consecutive trips for layups that cut the deficit to five. Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon — who looked incredibly explosive and overall great on Tuesday — bowling-balled his way to the rim for a layup, and Golden State’s lead was down to three. All of a sudden, things seemed to feel a little bit tight inside Oracle Arena for both of the team.
The Warriors surged back, with Curry scoring seven straight Golden State points to push the lead back to seven with just over 4 minutes remaining. But the Rockets just wouldn’t be denied. Gordon blew through the defense for an and-one layup. Harden knifed into the lane, drew ill-advised help off the strong-side corner from Warriors big man Kevon Looney (in the game because Draymond couldn’t be), and fed P.J. Tucker for a 3. And Gordon and Anderson hustled to win loose balls, resulting in a kickback to a wide-open Trevor Ariza at the 3-point arc for another 3 that got Houston within one.