HOUSTON -- Warriors guard Stephen Curry embraced the challenge of entering the Western Conference finals with a target on him, saying he hoped the Rockets would attack him in isolation on every defensive possession.
The Rockets, particularly probable MVP James Harden, accepted Curry's invitation often during Game 1. Harden did much of his damage during a 41-point performance at Curry's expense, but the Warriors pulled away for a 119-106 win Monday night at the Toyota Center.
"If that's the game plan they want to stick with, my job is just to make it as tough as possible," said Curry, who had 18 points. "You've got two great scorers over there in [Chris Paul] and James. You know how they get shots off in isolation-type situations, and they're tough to stop. So I'm going to get scored on; they're going to get scored on. There's going to be a lot of back-and-forth.
"But as long as we -- I should say as long as I'm in the right spot at the right time and defend and just try to make it as tough as possible, I can be all right with that and just have that competitiveness that we need."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harden scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting off isolations. The Rockets rely far more heavily on isolations than any other team in the league in large part because of Harden's effectiveness. According to NBA.com stats, Harden led the league with 877 points off isolations during the regular season, with Cleveland's LeBron James (500) the only player who scored even half as many points on such plays.
The Rockets are especially determined to attack Curry, who missed six weeks because of a sprained MCL in his left knee before returning for Game 2 of the second round. Curry said Sunday that moving laterally on defense is the most difficult challenge for his knee.
Half of Harden's 26 total isolations in Game 1 came against Curry, according to Second Spectrum data. The Rockets repeatedly set up the matchup by having the man Curry was defending screen for Harden, forcing a switch. Harden averaged 1.31 points per isolation against Curry on Monday night, a remarkably efficient number.
However, the Warriors can live with Harden's scoring if they can keep him from creating open looks for the Rockets' 3-point shooters.
Harden had seven assists, but none of them resulted in 3s, as Houston players other than him shot only 8-of-28 from long range.
"We're all in this together," said Harden, who was 14-of-24 from the floor and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. "It doesn't matter who has a bad game, who's missing shots, whether it's myself or Chris or anybody. Keep going. Keep shooting your shot and keep being aggressive. We've got this far doing that and having that mindset, so we're just going to continue with it."
Harden has been spectacular in all of the Rockets' series openers this postseason, scoring 44 points in Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 41 points in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz and 41 points against the Warriors.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harden is the first player in NBA history to open his team's first three playoff series by scoring 40 or more points.
It wasn't enough on Monday night, however, as the Rockets lost home-court advantage.
"He needs about 55 next time, and that would take care of that," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni joked. "I'll just have to tell him that."