- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - After squandering a 16-point lead and blowing a chance to steal home-court advantage from Golden State, there were plenty of reasons for the Houston Rockets to be upset.

Now they must hope that they didn’t lose more than just Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. They have a knee injury to star center Dwight Howard to worry about.

Stephen Curry scored 34 points and outdueled James Harden down the stretch with Howard relegated to spectator status and the Warriors beat the Rockets 110-106 on Tuesday night.

“Game 1 slipped away from us,” Harden said. “We had several opportunities to win the game, didn’t happen.”

Howard hurt his left knee in a first-quarter collision with teammate Josh Smith. He tried to come back into the game in the second quarter but lacked his usual athleticism because of the injury and eventually left the game for good with a bruise less than a minute into the fourth.

“It was very painful,” Howard said. “I tried to play it off as much as possible but I couldn’t give my teammates what I need to give them. It was disappointing, frustrating. But it’s a long series.”

With Howard spending so much time on the bench, both teams used smaller lineups for much of the game and that played right into Golden State’s hands.

The Warriors went to it at first in the second quarter after Houston built a 16-point lead. Using the lineup with Draymond Green at center, Golden State closed the first half on a 21-4 run to take a three-point lead.

The Warriors went back to it at times again in the second half and were able to hold off a late charge fueled by Harden’s 21-point second half to win the opener.

The Rockets must wait to see whether Howard will recover in time to play Game 2 on Thursday night in Oakland.

“I’m just going to keep fighting,” Howard said. “It’s a long series and we’re not going to stop fighting. I was hurt tonight but hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow. As a team we’re going continue to fight and I’m going to continue to fight and push through it. Hopefully I’ll come back.”

Harden, serenaded with chants of “Over-rated!” from Warriors fans, mixed in a series of step-back jumpers and driving layups to help Houston even the score at 95-all midway through the fourth. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

But the Warriors shut down Houston for long stretches, and Curry kept hitting shots. He connected on a 3-pointer and converted a layup to put Golden State up 108-97 with 2:01 remaining.

The Rockets never relented, though, with Trevor Ariza making a 3-pointer that trimmed the Warriors’ lead to 108-106 with 14.6 seconds to play.

Curry twice caught the inbounds pass, and the Rockets were forced to foul him both times. He hit both free throws to seal Golden State’s win.

“It’s entertaining basketball. We’re both supposed to help our team win and do what we can to impact the game,” Curry said.

Curry added six rebounds and five assists, Shaun Livingston had 18 points, and Green had 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to boost the Warriors when they needed it most.

Ariza scored 20 points and Smith had 17 points and seven rebounds for Houston.

In the conference finals for the first time since 1976, the Warriors hardly looked like the league’s top-seeded team at the outset. Instead, the Rockets rode the momentum from a stunning 3-1 series comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers that ended with a Game 7 win in Houston on Sunday.

The only setback to Houston’s hot start came when Howard briefly left in the first quarter after colliding with Smith. Howard returned after a few minutes, and the Rockets raced out to a 49-33 lead midway through the second quarter that left the home crowd stunned and silent.

Livingston sparked the comeback with 14 points in the quarter and Curry capped the spurt with a step-back 20-footer that sent the crowd roaring even louder.

“We had our pace going the way we like it,” Rockets point guard Jason Terry said. “We just got stagnant in the second quarter. We understand we can’t do that and beat anybody in this league. That’s not our formula for success.”

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston is 0-5 against the Warriors this season. … The Rockets haven’t won at Golden State since Dec. 13, 2013.

Warriors: Golden State is 44-3 at home this season, including 5-1 in the playoffs. … The Warriors are 17-14 this season when trailing by at least 10 points.

CAPTAIN’S HANDSHAKE

The Rockets sent out seldom-used reserve Nick Johnson for the captain’s handshake with Curry, who was caught by cameras walking away and shaking his head, which created a stir on social media. Rockets captain Patrick Beverley is out with a left wrist injury and hasn’t been handling the ritual handshake in the playoffs.

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