(SportsNetwork.com) - The Golden State Warriors will once again try to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals Wednesday night when they meet the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors weren't able to polish off the sweep Monday night as the Rockets prevailed, 128-115, in Houston. The Warriors pulled within two possessions after trailing by as many as 25 points, but the Rockets held them off and avoided a sweep.
Six players scored in double figures in a balanced attack for the Rockets, who tied a playoff record with an explosive 45-point first quarter.
James Harden finished with a playoff career-high 45 points to make up for a 3- of-16 shooting effort in Game 3's embarrassing 35-point loss. Dwight Howard totaled 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Josh Smith stepped up with 20 points.
"It was really important for us to get a good start," Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. "We got the crowd into it. We needed that. We wanted to get ahead and have them chase us."
The Warriors, still just one win away from reaching the Finals for the first time since 1975, held their collective breath when Stephen Curry fell head over heels in a scary scene midway through the second quarter.
The league MVP somehow came away with just a head contusion and returned in the second half. He scored 23 points in 31 minutes and appears to be in good health for the remainder of the series.
"I asked him a couple times if he was okay. He said yeah. He looked fine," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday.
Klay Thompson led Golden State with 24 points, while Draymond Green chipped in with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks before fouling out.
A historic 45-point opening quarter was summed up by Smith scoring 13 points in the first seven minutes and the Rockets shooting 8-of-9 from 3-point range. Harden accounted for 10 points in the blitzkrieg, including a step-back 19- footer just before the buzzer that gave Houston a healthy 23-point cushion.
"The game was won in the first quarter," Kerr said.
The Warriors trailed by 19 at the time Curry was accidentally undercut by Trevor Ariza. Curry's arm was pinned underneath his body, and his head hit the hardwood upon impact. After being face down on the court for several minutes, Curry gained his feet and walked back to the locker room with a trainer supporting his left arm.
"It felt like I was in the air for a long time. ... It was a bad feeling," recalled Curry. "It could have been a lot worse. I'm disappointed we lost, but all in all I'm glad I came through it relatively OK."
Thompson stepped up in the absence of his "Splash Brother" and hit four 3- pointers over the final four-plus minutes of the half. Green's bucket off the offensive glass pulled the Warriors within 66-59.
Curry passed all the concussion tests and returned to action with 5:58 left in the third quarter. The Warriors were within striking distance at 78-69 at the time, but Harden fueled a 15-2 run with two 3-pointers and the Rockets were suddenly ahead by 22 points.
Houston led 99-84 entering the fourth, and a flurry of 3-pointers -- one from Harrison Barnes, two from Thompson and another from Curry -- cut Golden State's deficit to 104-98.
It seemed as if the Warriors were duplicating their memorable comeback against the Pelicans in the first round, when they trailed by 20 entering the fourth quarter and pulled out a Game 3 win.
Harden refused to suffer a similar fate, as he scored seven straight points and threw an alley-oop to Howard for a 114-98 lead with five minutes to play.
Howard was whistled for a Flagrant-1 foul for landing an elbow on Andrew Bogut in the third quarter. The league announced it won't upgrade the foul and Howard won't face any further discipline.
The Cleveland Cavaliers await the winner of this series after their sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game 6, if needed, will be Friday night in Houston.