OAKLAND, Calif. — Nothing moves the Golden State Warriors or their fans like a Stephen Curry hot streak.
“I’ve seen those explosions happen here and everywhere,” Draymond Green said after Curry went nuclear by scoring 26 of his game-high 35 points in the second half of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday, a 126-85 rout of the Houston Rockets. “His three is similar to some people’s dunks. You go to certain arenas and a guy gets a dunk and it’s just absurd. That’s how [Curry’s] three-ball is.”
Even with the July 2016 arrival of Kevin Durant, Curry’s long-distance shooting has been the signature of this hugely successful Warriors run. When Curry is healthy, and at his best — as he was Sunday night — the Warriors are the greatest show in sports. When he’s not — injuries sidelined him for nearly half of this season — it affects the entire team.
So much ink has been spilled about how bored the Warriors have seemed this year. One deep dive after another has explored what ails them, but the truth is, the Warriors have been out of it because the man who gives them life has spent so much time watching from afar.
Sunday’s blowout of the Rockets was a reminder that, despite everything that’s changed around the Warriors, they are still Curry’s team. Even with three other all-stars in their prime, all of whom are headed to the Hall of Fame one day and one of whom has also won an MVP award (Durant); even with one of the best bench players in the history of the sport (Andre Iguodala); and even with a coach headed toward a third championship in four years at the helm (Steve Kerr), the Warriors go as Curry goes.
The whole building can feel it.
“With our team, the way we play and what we rely on with Steph, he seems to feed off the energy of the crowd,” Kerr said after Sunday’s win. “I thought you saw that tonight. Everybody was trying to will him early to making one of those threes. Then once the dam broke in the third quarter … fans are just so happy when Steph scores. There is just this synergy between the fans and Steph.”
That can’t happen when he is unavailable.
Over the past three years, as this Warriors juggernaut was unleashed, Curry played in 294 of Golden State’s 308 games, including playoffs (95.5 percent). This season has been a different story. Because of multiple ankle injuries, plus the sprained medial collateral ligament that knocked him out for the final few weeks of the regular season and the first six games of Golden State’s playoff run, Curry has only played in 58 of the team’s 95 games (61.0 percent). And he spent a good chunk of those 58 games trying to round back into form.
That’s why the past seven months have been such a strange, joyless march for the Warriors. They still won 58 games and are well on their way to a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, and probably a third title in four years, but when Curry isn’t playing or isn’t right, the Warriors lack what makes them special.
But when it arrives — man, does it arrive fast. After going 18 for 45 overall in the series, including 3 for 20 from three-point range, Curry’s perfect 7-for-7 performance in Game 3’s third quarter transformed what had been an 11-point lead at halftime into a 25-point rout by the time he went to the bench with 2:20 remaining in the quarter.
After Curry made his final basket of that flurry — a finger roll in the lane — he turned to the fans on the baseline under the basket and shouted, “This is my f—– house!”
“I already know,” he said later, with a smile, when asked about the cursing. “I blacked out.”
It was clearly a cathartic moment. He had snapped out of a series-long slump, one that caused observers to debate his health and conditioning, as well as his defense. He was also putting aside a frustrating season that brought one injury after another.
“A lot of it was just talking to myself,” Curry said. “You’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes. No matter what questions I’ve been asked over the first two games, or what the expectations was, I had the highest expectations for myself. And you’ve got to — find whatever you want to get going.
“I did my job tonight. I’ve got to do it again.”
In the second half of Game 3, the real Stephen Curry arrived — loudly — in the Western Conference finals. Once he did, the real Warriors arrived as well.
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