“Not my finest moment,” Curry grimaced afterward.
The botched dunk was met with unadulterated glee both in the building and on social media. For those victimized by Curry’s shooting exploits, annoyed by his celebrations or envious of his success, the lowlight was a long-awaited cause for rejoicing. But Curry’s misfire — and his dreadful play leading up to it — should be no laughing matter to the Warriors.
While he finished with 17 points on 7-for-23 shooting in Game 3, Curry turned in perhaps the worst closing effort of his distinguished playoff career. During the fourth quarter and overtime, Curry missed all six shots he attempted, failed to register an assist, didn’t grab a rebound and was whistled for four fouls.
“Just a tough night," Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “No matter how good you are, you’re going to have some bad games.”
With Kevin Durant pouring in 46 points, the champs merely needed a “C-minus” performance from Curry down the stretch to claim a commanding 3-0 series lead and to plot a direct path to extended rest before the conference finals. Instead, they received an “F” from Curry, and the Rockets can even the hard-fought series with a Game 4 win Monday. To make matters worse for Golden State, James Harden broke free with 41 points and a game-sealing three-pointer, giving Houston new life.
The Warriors need not panic quite yet, but the loss is cause for consternation. Kerr shortened his rotation, with all five Warriors starters playing at least 40 minutes Sunday. Durant logged a game-high 50 minutes, the most he has played in a postseason game in five years. And 35-year-old Andre Iguodala, a crucial X-factor who missed time because of injury in the 2018 playoffs, played a season-high 41 minutes.
Kerr has long protected his key players from heavy workloads, but he can’t afford that luxury in this series. Golden State’s reserves combined to score just seven points in 39 minutes Saturday, and Houston’s own reliance upon its starters has forced Kerr to fight fire with fire. The Warriors’ exceedingly top-heavy approach led Kerr to call off practice Sunday to give his starting lineup a day to recuperate. Theyplayers needed it.
Of course, Curry would benefit from a shorter series more than anybody. He is dealing with both an ankle sprain suffered in the first round and a dislocated finger on his left hand suffered during Game 2 against the Rockets. He refused to use his injuries as an excuse for his poor Game 3, but his 35.3 percent shooting in this series is highly out of the ordinary, and Golden State remains 10 wins from the title.
The Warriors need more from Curry if they are going to put away the feisty Rockets and eventually finish off their fourth title in five years. Although Durant’s consistent brilliance has largely masked his team’s flaws this postseason, Golden State is most vulnerable when Curry’s impact is limited. That has been the case far too often in recent weeks, and it only will get more problematic as the wear and tear accumulates.
Remarkably, the 6-foot-3 guard has committed 36 fouls in the playoffs — the most through Saturday’s games. An exasperated Kerr even enlisted Curry’s mother, Sonya, to convince her son to stop reaching in on ballhandlers.
Smarter, sharper play will be needed for Curry to get back to haunting and taunting the Rockets and their home crowd. Remember, his Warriors have eliminated the Rockets in three of the past four postseasons, and he held off James Harden in the 2016 MVP race. In Houston, Curry poured in 40 points during Game 3 of the 2015 West finals, and he had 27 points and 10 assists during a crushing come-from-behind victory in Game 7 last year. More recently, he sank a key three-pointer to close out a tight Game 1 victory at Oracle Arena.
If Curry’s confidence was shaken, he didn’t let on. As his postgame news conference wound down, he delivered two sentences with enough gravity to stifle some of the earlier chortling.
“I want to shoot the ball better," he said. "That’s going to happen.”
Curry’s Game 3 might have ended on a blooper, but his night closed with that promise — which sounded an awful lot like a threat.
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