OAKLAND, Calif. — The first 10 quarters of the Western Conference finals generated one big question: What was up with Stephen Curry?
Through halftime of Sunday’s Game 3, Curry had gone a dismal 18 for 45 from the field and 3 for 20 from three-point range. Those are bad numbers by anyone’s standards — let alone the lofty ones set by Curry, a two-time NBA MVP and the greatest shooter this sport has seen.
But then the second half of Game 3 happened. And in the span of 24 minutes, all of the doubts about Curry’s health and conditioning disappeared as quickly as the Houston Rockets’ chances of winning this game.
Curry’s second-half avalanche — a barrage of 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting, including 4 for 5 from beyond the three-point arc — turned a game that was competitive throughout the first half into a 126-85 laugher in front of a sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.
“Steph is underrated for the toughness factor,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “But you don’t become a two-time MVP just by shooting a bunch of threes. He’s got unbelievable stamina and physical toughness, mental toughness for four days. Everybody’s been talking about him, and what he did tonight didn’t surprise any of us because that’s just who he is. He’s got unbelievable character, great talent, and it always rises when it needs to.”
Before that, Curry’s struggles continued throughout the first half. Curry made an early three-pointer, and with it came a cheer filled with an overwhelming sense of relief from the partisan crowd — a reaction that quickly reverted to panic as Curry saw one shot after another clang off the rim, just as they had in Golden State’s 22-point loss in Game 2 on Wednesday that evened this series.
It was frustrating more so because I had the right intentions in the first half, and I got five wide-open threes, and only one of them went in,” Curry said. “I never lose confidence, and I knew to just keep searching in the right ways to find some openings, and things would work out. I got to the free throw line for an and-one and saw the ball go in. It was the right place at the right time. . . . From there, it was kind of an avalanche, and it felt good.”
As the buzzer sounded for the halftime break, Curry was 3 for 11 from the field and 1 for 7 from three. Even though the Warriors were up by 11 points at the time, the postgame line of questioning already was beginning to form: Was Curry, who missed close to seven weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament before he returned during the second round against the New Orleans Pelicans, still injured? Was he suffering from a lack of conditioning and tired legs, which were fatigued even further because Houston constantly has hunted Curry defensively?
Once Curry emerged from the locker room, though, it became clear he was done waiting for his shot to come back.
Golden State opened the second half with a 10-0 run that broke the game open for good — a stretch that started with an and-one layup from Curry and included a fast-break bucket after he collected a missed layup by Andre Iguodala.
“I think it was very important for him to get to the basket,” Draymond Green said. “Once he got to the basket, the threes started to open up and fall.”
Curry was just getting started. He finished the period 7 for 7 from the field, including a pair of shots from three-point range. By the time he sat with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter, Golden State led by 25 points. Curry was plus-18 in the quarter alone.
For good measure, he returned to the court in the fourth quarter and scored another eight points in less than seven minutes before he took a seat for good with the game well in hand.
More important for the Warriors, Curry had rediscovered his shooting form. It never seemed likely to desert him for long. And if it’s back for good, this series very well may be over.
“He’s good,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni deadpanned about Curry’s performance, “and sooner or later he’s going to erupt.
“You can analyze him all you want, but at the end of the day he’s still a pretty good basketball player.”
Before Curry’s eruption, the first half was a wildly entertaining affair even though neither team seemed able to hit a shot. The Rockets and Warriors combined to go 8 for 33 from three-point range in the first half, and Houston wound up falling behind by 11 because of repeated misses right at the basket.
The warning signs already were there for Houston, even though it remained in contact. Its backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul couldn’t get going in the first half, with 14 points on 4-for-15 shooting, six assists and four turnovers between them. Those two finished the game with 33 points on 12-for-32 shooting, which will lead to renewed scrutiny of Harden’s ability to keep up his energy level as a series progresses and Paul’s apparent leg injury, which D’Antoni dismissed talk of before the game.
Meanwhile, Durant added 25 points and Green finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and six assists for the Warriors, who did what Green said they would: put their poor performance in Game 2 behind them. And a lot of that was because of Curry, who found his shot again.
“I don’t mean to disappoint, but I’ve seen crazier from him,” Green said.
And that should do it here in Oakland.
Yes, there are still 22 minutes 8 seconds remaining in Game 3, but a 10-0 run by the Warriors has their lead up to 64-43, and it feels impossible to imagine the Warriors will give up a 21-point second half lead at home – even to a team as good as Houston.
Five quick points from Stephen Curry got things going for Golden State, before a Kevin Durant three in front of Houston’s bench – followed by a long stare at the Rockets bench as he ran away – has everyone preparing to beat the traffic out of here.
The Warriors have taken a 54-43 lead into the halftime break, behind 15 points from Kevin Durant, five points, seven rebounds and five assists from Draymond Green and nine points from Stephen Curry (though on 3-for-11 shooting, including 1 for 7 from three).
Golden State has controlled the pace of play — and, as a result, the Rockets looked like they had tired legs as the second quarter wore on. Chris Paul and James Harden are a combined 4 for 15 from the field with six assists and four turnovers, which simply isn’t going to get it done.
This had been a quality, high-intensity game despite the fact both teams couldn’t hit a shot, particularly from deep (Golden State and Houston are a combined 8 for 33). The fact Golden State has outscored Houston 14-5 in fast break points, as well as 13-4 in points off turnovers (the Warriors have four turnovers, the Rockets 10) sums up where the game stands at halftime.
Another thing to watch in this series has been when will Warriors rookie center Jordan Bell see minutes?
The answer turned out to be the second quarter of Game 3 — and they have been lively ones.
Bell immediately lost P.J. Tucker in the corner for a three. Then he had a good contest on a drive to the rim and grabbed the rebound. Then he got isolated twice against James Harden – with Harden getting by him each time, missing a layup once and making the second attempt.
That caused Steve Kerr to call a quick timeout, with Stephen Curry at the scorer’s table to check back in. The lead actually increased by two in that 2:22 stretch Bell was on the court — and he stayed out there after the timeout, as Kerr got Klay Thompson a rest instead.
This will be something to monitor as the series progresses, to be sure.
An 11-0 run to end the first quarter allowed Golden State to take a 31-22 lead after the opening 12 minutes of Game 3.
A Nick Young three-pointer in the quarter’s dying seconds capped the run, sending the home crowd here at Oracle into hysterics as the Warriors have slowly begun to assert control over what has been a very entertaining game.
One thing to watch: Chris Paul has been awful. In eight minutes to begin this game, Paul is 0 for 4 with two turnovers and no assists. Before the game, Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni downplayed Paul having a leg injury he’s playing through, as it has looked like at times he might.
Stephen Curry, meanwhile, is on the court to start the second quarter for Golden State, as Warriors Coach Steve Kerr has made sure to have one of either Curry or Kevin Durant on the court at all times.
Steve Kerr’s early timeout did wonders for the Warriors, who immediately responded with a 12-2 run to get back in front.
That run included three things the Warriors need to happen in this game to win: three-pointers from Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and a ramped up tempo.
Curry’s shooting was a talking point entering Sunday, after he went 2 for 13 from three in Games 1 and 2. While Curry did miss his first triple, he buried his second – much to the delight of the fans here in Oakland. That he’s since missed four more is a problem, but he looks spry.
Green, meanwhile, has looked scared to shoot at times in this series, which can’t be the case for Golden State to be effective. Him knocking down his first three with the ball hitting nothing but net was exactly what Kerr wanted to see.
Most importantly, these teams are flying up and down the court – which definitely works in Golden State’s favor when it’s dialed in.
Steve Kerr has called a quick timeout early in the first quarter after the Rockets jumped out to an early 8-4 lead.
Energy is there for both teams, but Golden State has not looked crisp in its actions at either end early on. The Warriors have tried to move Stephen Curry around to avoid him being attacked defensively — but all that’s done has led to two early buckets for Trevor Ariza, the player they’re trying to keep him on.
It was a dream start for the Rockets, who have quieted the crowd and jumped out to an early lead, just as they would’ve hoped.
The story of the first two games of the Western Conference finals has been simple, as Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni laid out Sunday before Game 3 here at Oracle Arena.
“So far, the team that’s been the most aggressive out there has been the winner,” D’Antoni said.
He’s right. The Warriors took it to the Rockets in Game 1, overcoming an early surge to gradually pull away over the final three quarters. The Rockets turned the tables in Game 2, pounding Golden State into submission — something that seemed destined to happen after the Warriors threw three passes to no one and out of bounds in the opening three minutes.
So what happens when both teams play hard for 48 minutes?
“Should be a great game, shouldn’t it?” D’Antoni said with a smirk. “You’ve got two very good teams, and it should be a great game.”
The Warriors have vowed to come out with a purpose in Game 3, after not showing up mentally — as they have done so often during this season, despite going 58-24 in the regular season and 11-3 so far in these playoffs — in Game 2. Draymond Green said after a practice leading up to Game 3 that the Warriors have had their one absent-minded game of the series already and will be locked in.
They’d better be — and they’d better stay that way. Golden State likely is talented enough to win the title this year even if their focus remains inconsistent. Despite their issues with that in Game 2, they still had a shot to win in the fourth quarter before the Rockets had a hot stretch shooting the ball to push a 10-point lead back up to a 20-point advantage.
But the Warriors are playing with fire. Win these two games here at Oracle Arena tonight and Tuesday and the series is effectively over. Lose one, though, and all of a sudden a terrific and highly explosive Rockets team can turn this series on its head by burying a bunch of threes.
We should know in the opening minutes how both teams are feeling at the start. Here’s hoping they’re both ready to go, and we get the classic game all of the basketball world spent six months waiting for this series to happen to see.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors, 8 p.m., TNT (series tied 1-1)
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