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Warriors stifled Harden by innovating, Kerr says
9:57 PM ET
  • Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer

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      Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says James Harden‘s offensive brilliance has changed the way teams have to defend him night to night.

In Golden State’s biggest win of the year, a 116-104 decision over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the Warriors held Harden to just 24 points after he came into the contest averaging almost 39. Kerr noted that his group worked hard in its preparation before facing the NBA’s leading scorer.

“James has basically forced the whole league to reconsider how to defend,” Kerr said. “Him in particular, but even how to guard pick-and-roll, with the number of 3-point shooters people have. So I’ve seen a lot of innovative stuff out there.

Toronto did something interesting with him a few weeks ago. Luke Walton ran a box-and-one the other night against him in Sacramento,” Kerr added, referring to a defense in which the defender on Harden plays man-to-man while the other four play zone. “That’s who James is. He’s so good that you have to try to do your best to keep him off balance.”

The defensive challenge to stop Harden on Wednesday started with veteran swingman Glenn Robinson III, who played a solid game while chipping in with 18 points of his own. On top of Robinson’s performance, the Warriors repeatedly threw bodies at Harden and tried to set up traps when possible.

Warriors forward Draymond Green specifically praised assistant coach Jarron Collins for setting up the defensive scheme that stifled Harden and the rest of the Rockets throughout.

“That game plan was f—ing phenomenal today,” Green said. “It don’t get much better than that.”

Green, who played one of his best games of the season on both ends of the floor, agreed with Kerr’s feeling that Harden’s offensive ability has changed the way teams must defend him.

“You have to,” Green said. “When a guy’s averaging 40, you can’t keep doing the same thing — you’re going to get the same results. So I don’t think there’s anyone in the league that can cover him one-on-one. You can try to make it tough on him, but he’s won MVP and became who he’s become [by] hitting tough shots. He’s made a living now off of the step-back. That used to be one of the toughest shots in the game of basketball. He’s now made it a patented shot.

“So you definitely have to switch up the way you guard [him], and we was able to do it successfully tonight.”

With the Warriors doing everything they could to limit Harden, the Rockets couldn’t find another answer offensively. Houston guard Russell Westbrook went just 11-for-32 from the field as the Rockets made just 37 of the 100 shots they took.

“That was their scheme, that was the game plan,” Harden said. “Looks like it worked. [We had] a lot of opportunities, a lot of great opportunities that we just didn’t convert on. It’s pretty simple.”

The biggest key for the Warriors, aside from the consistency of pressure on Harden, was that they held him to just one free throw attempt — a feat even more impressive considering he came into the game averaging 12.8 foul shots.

“The best thing we did was not foul him,” Kerr said. “You know, one free throw. And after the first quarter, we didn’t foul Westbrook much, either. And so that kept the game going and it allowed us to play in open space, because their defense is really good in the half court, so the tempo was right for us.”

Westbrook is convinced that this game was just a blip on the radar, not a trend the rest of the league will follow.

“It’s nothing we ain’t used to,” Westbrook said. “It happens. Tonight we missed shots, so it worked. You know, move on to the next one. Good luck, though, trying to do that.”

The Warriors will take it, given that they came in toting a 7-24 record in a season that has been littered with injuries. The victory marked the largest upset in a Christmas game over the past 30 years, as Golden State was an 11.5-point underdog, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

Injured stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson beamed with pride from the Golden State bench as two-way guard Damion Lee, Curry’s brother-in-law, had one of the best games of his career, with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 4 assists. Most of all, the Warriors took pride in the fact that they were able to win a game against a team they have dominated over the past few years. When asked if this was his team’s best victory of the season, Kerr responded quickly.

“Well, yeah, but there haven’t been that many to choose from,” he said, as reporters chuckled. “It was a great win. Great win. Obviously, we’re playing a great team, Christmas Day, and we’ve been through a tough first half of the season or third, whatever it is, so mostly I’m happy for the players. They deserve this.

“And I’m happy for our fans. This is a good Christmas present for them because they’re here every night cheering for us.”

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