May 20, 2018, 11:04 pm
Steph Curry was headed for another disappointing performance, a continuing cause for concern for the Golden State Warriors rather than the driving force behind the defending champions’ success. Then halftime came, immediately after which Curry forcefully reminded the basketball world why he’s a two-time MVP – and his team might still be unbeatable after all. Buoyed by a pristine third-quarter from Curry, the Warriors routed the Houston Rockets 126-85 on Sunday night, taking a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Discussion regarding Curry’s struggles reached a crescendo midway through Game 3 despite Golden State holding a 54-43 lead at intermission. He had 10 points in the first half, but needed 11 shots to get there, and missed several good looks from deep, going 1-of-7 on 3-pointers. Curry created some personal momentum with an and-one lefty layup past Chris Paul on the first possession of the second half, and furthered it moments later by cleaning up a missed bunny in transition. It wasn’t until the Rockets respond to the Warriors’ 10-0 run to open the second half, though, that he really got going.
Golden State’s first two possessions following a timeout to stymie a mini Houston run both ended in Curry layups. On Golden State’s next trip down, he lost Paul again by stepping behind a dribble hand-off with Kevin Durant and splashing his second triple of the game. Barely more than a minute later, Curry gave Harden a taste of his own medicine, dancing with the ball at the top of the floor before crossing over into a 30-foot triple, bringing Oracle Arena to its loudest roar yet – and busting out his classic shimmy.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 21, 2018
The floodgates never closed. Curry finished with 35 points, his most since late February, on 13-of-23 from the field and 5-of-12 from beyond the arc. He scored 18 points on perfect 7-of-7 shooting in the third quarter alone, and hit two more threes in the final stanza, when the Warriors turned a blowout into an all-time laugher by outscoring the Rockets 38-18.
“That what I expected to do,” he said after the game.
Curry had help in Game 3, too, from both his teammates and his opponents. Kevin Durant had 25 points, six rebounds and six assists, playing his most well-rounded offensive game of the series. Draymond Green grabbed 17 rebounds and dished six assists, while Andre Iguodala stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points (all in the first half), three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Golden State shot 52.2 percent from the field, 13-of-32 from three and 17-of-18 from the free throw line. The home team had just eight turnovers against 20 assists, and got out to 23 fast-break points.
With Curry going off from the friendly confines of Oracle, the Warriors played like the historic juggernauts they are. The Rockets, by contrast, were barely recognizable compared to their authoritative performance in Game 2. They were carless with the ball from the opening tip, committing 19 turnovers that resulted in 28 Golden State points, and notably less connected defensively. Harden ended up with a respectable 20 points and nine assists, but never found the rhythm on offense that came so easily to him at Toyota Center. Paul, plagued by a nagging injury to his lower right leg, was ineffective on both sides of the ball, routinely losing contact of his assignment defensively and struggling to score out of isolation.
The Rockets shot 39.4 percent overall, 11-of-34 from 3-point range and 8-of-17 from the restricted area. They were out-rebounded, out-ran, out-hustled and simply out-played to the extent a loud contingent of naysayers believed it would be throughout the Western Conference Finals.
“We played soft, actually,” D’Antoni said. “You can’t do that with these guys.”
A bounce-back game was to be expected for Golden State. Green said before Game 3 that his team plays best when threatened, and that’s exactly how Houston made the reigning champions feel after blowing them out on Wednesday night. And Curry, still acclimating to the speed and physicality of postseason basketball after missing almost all of March and April, has been a monster at home in the playoffs. That 41-point margin of victory deserves an asterisk, too; the fourth quarter was a formality.
Nothing that transpired on Sunday evening was surprising, basically. It’s no secret that when both these teams are playing near their peak, the Warriors are better than the Rockets. Before Game 3, though, there was a growing notion that Curry’s relative labors might keep his team team reaching those exalted heights. Now? Golden State, no matter the game-by-game performance of the Rockets or any other potential foe, seems well on its way to a second consecutive championship.