OAKLAND, California: Houston's James Harden lost control of the ball as time expired, allowing Golden State to hang on for a 99-98 win against the Rockets on Thursday and take a 2-0 lead in an NBA Western Conference finals series that is developing into a showdown between Harden and Stephen Curry.
Curry had 33 points for the Warriors, who now have a strong grip on this series and sights set on the NBA Finals. Curry won the league MVP this year and Harden was the runner-up.
"Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat. These two guys are the two best basketball players in the world," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said.
Harden rallied the Rockets from 17 points down in the second quarter and had a chance to finish off the comeback in the fourth. Instead, Klay Thompson and Curry trapped Harden, who lost the ball as time expired.
Harden fell to the floor and put his hands over his head as the Warriors celebrated on the court, the sellout crowd roared, and confetti fell from the rafters.
"Kicking chairs," Harden said. "It's frustrating. It's frustrating to give the game away like that."
Harden had 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Dwight Howard overcame a sprained left knee that slowed him down to finish with 19 points and 17 rebounds for a Rockets team headed home in a major hole.
Game 3 is Saturday in Houston, which is facing a two-game deficit again. The Rockets overcame a 3-1 hole in the second round against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We're not going to go anywhere," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We're just going to keep standing here and swinging."
Curry made five 3-pointers to go with six assists and three rebounds. He got a big boost from his teammates — notably Bogut, Draymond Green and Thompson — to regroup after the Warriors lost the big lead in the first half.
Curry connected on a 3-pointer, then found Bogut under the rim for a layup that sent the 7-foot Australian flexing his muscles and shouting to the crowd. Bogut missed the ensuing free throw, but the Warriors led 96-89 with 2:25 left.
Harden brought Houston back and the Rockets also forced the Warriors into an 8-second, backcourt violation before Harden found Howard for an alley-oop that sliced Golden State's lead to 99-98 with 33 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Harrison Barnes missed a difficult reverse layup contested by Howard as the shot clock nearly expired. Harden got the ball down the court, and McHale elected not to call timeout because his team had the Warriors scrambling and outmanned.
"I will take our best player heading downhill on a broken court any day of the week. That's where he feasts," McHale said.
Harden was defended by Thompson and Curry came over near the 3-point line, where Harden lost the ball. Time expired amid the scramble.
"You knew he probably wasn't going to pass," Curry said. "At that point, it's just don't let him get a shot off and try to be the hero."
The Warriors bench ran onto the court in celebration. Harden lay on the floor until teammates helped him up.
"I just wanted to stay big and force a contested shot," Thompson said. "Steph made a great read with that double team."
The play ended a fast-paced, back-and-forth contest — one that saw the Rockets rally the same way the Warriors did in Game 1, when they came back from a 16-point deficit in the second quarter.
"A little too drama-filled for us," Curry said.