Oakland, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Golden State Warriors, known more for their offensive prowess, locked in on the defensive end on two separate occasions Tuesday night en route to a Game 1 win in the Western Conference Finals.
Stephen Curry scored 34 points with six rebounds and five assists as the Warriors defeated the resilient Houston Rockets, 110-106, to take the early lead in the best-of-seven series.
Shaun Livingston deposited 16 of his playoff career-high 18 in the first half and Draymond Green posted 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for Golden State, which is making its first appearance in the conference finals since 1976.
"I was just trying to bring energy off the bench. Our bench has been good all year," Livingston said. "We rely on our depth. Again, I just tried to come in and do my part."
Klay Thompson struggled to 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting -- including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Game 2 is Thursday at Oracle Arena.
The build up coming into this game was Curry, the league MVP, going against James Harden, who finished second in the voting.
It lived up to the hype as Harden contributed 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to match Curry's strong performance.
"We've done a great job of letting things go. It's all about Game 2 now," Harden said.
Trevor Ariza had 20 points and Josh Smith chipped in 17 points and seven boards for the Rockets, who have lost six straight to the Warriors dating back to last season.
Dwight Howard, who played in just two of the four regular season games against Golden State, dealt with a knee injury throughout the evening and finished with seven points and 13 rebounds in just over 26 minutes of action.
"I didn't even know Dwight got injured, I was so focused on the game. I hope he is alright," Harden said.
Houston dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers in the semifinals to become the ninth team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 series deficit and advance.
The Rockets showed that heart and determination on Tuesday.
The Warriors used a 25-6 run to end the first half for a three-point lead at the break, then they went on an 11-0 run late in the fourth to help seal the win, but Harden and the Rockets hung around.
Harden made a runner at the buzzer to cut Houston's deficit down to 84-79 after three quarters. He then scored six straight Rockets points early in the fourth, the last of which trimmed the margin to 90-89.
Smith buried a 3-pointer minutes later to tie the game at 95-95, then Harden followed a Curry layup with a cross-over jumper over Thompson to keep it deadlocked.
From that point, the Warriors netted the next 11 -- the final seven coming from Curry -- and forced four turnovers over that stretch to take a 108-97 lead with 2:01 remaining.
"It's entertaining basketball but we're both supposed to help our team win and do what we can to impact the win," Curry said of the matchup with Harden. "Hopefully we have a big impact and that's what we're supposed to do."
Houston wouldn't go away as Ariza dialed in a 3-pointer that capped a 9-0 run and brought the visitors within two with 14.6 seconds on the clock. Curry knocked down two free throws to extend the margin to four before Harden missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds as the Warriors held on.
"With our small lineup, we can spread the floor pretty well," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "It was an interesting chess match."
Kerr acknowledged that both teams like to play small, but it was Howard's injury that played into that game plan.
Midway through the first quarter, Smith put up an ill-advised runner and toppled into Howard as he came down to the floor. Howard's left leg bent inward and the big man could not make it down the other end for the defensive possession.
Howard walked and jogged up and down the baseline during a timeout before ultimately going to the locker room for further examination, later returning to the lineup but he wasn't his usual self.
"I hope that Dwight is healthy and we play big," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
The Rockets had a quick turnaround from their series-clinching win over the Clippers, but the Warriors were the ones who came out sluggish.
The Houston bench fueled an 11-2 run late in the first and the Rockets brought a 31-24 lead into the second.
Smith's 3-pointer and dunk on successive possessions highlighted a 9-0 run that stretched Houston's lead to 16 with over seven minutes left in the half.
"I think we finally realized it was the Western Conference Finals," Kerr said of his team's slow start. "Houston wasn't in that process and we were. I thought we took a quarter and a half to dig in defensively."
The Warriors locked in from there, outscoring the Rockets 25-6 to grab a three-point lead into halftime. Livingston led the charge with 10 points and Curry capped the half with a buzzer-beating jumper that made it 58-55 Golden State at the break.
The Rockets and Warriors had never faced each other in the postseason ... The Curry/Harden matchup marked the first time that the top two vote-getters for the MVP met in the playoffs since LeBron James faced off against Kevin Durant in the 2012 NBA Finals ... Golden State is 8-0 this postseason when leading at halftime ... The Warriors scored 20 points off 16 Houston turnovers, while the Rockets netted 19 points on 13 Golden State miscues.