Warriors deliver knockout punch in Houston

For the fifth straight year, the Warriors are headed to the Western Conference finals. (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

For the fifth straight year, the Warriors are headed to the Western Conference finals. (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

It seems like a time so far away, but there was once a Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors team that had the NBA at its mercy.

No one pitied that team for not having Durant, one of the most lethal scorers in the history of basketball. It already had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and enough supporting talent to never give opponents a breather. It won a championship, went 73-9 the next season, then lost the Finals due to a performance from LeBron James that the former Cavaliers star himself used to justify his claim as the best player in the history of basketball.

Like those years without Durant, today’s Warriors received little pity this week when Durant went down with a calf injury. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t need him to seal yet another Western Conference finals appearance.

Steph Curry goes off in Warriors’ series-winner

In a flashback to four years ago, when fans weren’t yelling at them for ruining the NBA, the Warriors rode a second-half supernova performance from Curry to a 118-113 win over the Houston Rockets, advancing 4-2 past their biggest conference rivals.

The Warriors looked unusually vulnerable early in the game as Curry’s point total remained at zero for the entire first-half, but then the team’s original superstar went off for 33 second-half points and the Warriors were once again inevitable.

In a game featuring 21 lead changes and a predictably loud Houston crowd, Curry took over down the road and scored 16 of his team’s final 19 to drive the decisive run in the final two minutes.

Thompson was the team’s most consistent offensive threat, dropping 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting (7-of-13 from deep), while the Warriors bench outscored the Houston unit 33-17.

Who will the Warriors face in the Western Conference finals?

Waiting for the Warriors in the Western Conference finals will either be the Denver Nuggets or Portland Trail Blazers. The West’s 2- and 3-seeds are scheduled to face in a Game 7 on Sunday to end a street fight of a series.

The Nuggets, who challenged the Warriors for the 1-seed for most of the regular season, likely represent the stiffer challenge for the Warriors, but the lesson of the Blazers’ postseason so far has been to never, ever doubt Damian Lillard.

Whoever they face, the Warriors will likely be heavily favored — as they have all year — to reach the NBA finals and win a third-straight title and their fourth in five years.

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