OAKLAND, Calif. — The top story line coming out of the Golden State Warriors’ 126-85 annihilation of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals here Sunday was quite obviously Stephen Curry.
Read the final box score and it quickly becomes clear: This was Curry’s game. After disappointing performances in the first two games of the series — 18 points in Game 1, 16 in Game 2, a combined 2-for-13 from 3 — Curry finally broke out. He scored 35 points in 34 minutes. He added six rebounds. He hit a stepback 3 with James Harden’s hand in his face. A 30-footer made the Oracle Arena crowd go absolutely bonkers. He had a typically magnificent Steph Curry third quarter, making all seven of his shots for 18 points. That was part of a span where he made 11 of 12 shots, including four consecutive 3.
A bumbling start to the Western Conference finals made people wonder what was wrong with the two-time MVP. Was his Grade 2 MCL sprain from the end of the regular season lingering well into the playoffs? Was he not in game shape? Was Curry, as one sports pundit asserted, now “the weak link of Golden State’s Big 4”?
“Sooner or later, he’s going to erupt,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You can analyze him all you want, but at the end of the day he’s still a pretty good basketball player. I thought we let him get going a couple times. We didn’t switch out, didn’t get up into him. Then it’s a lot easier to shoot when you’re up 20 and up 18, which they were most of the game. It’s very comfortable, and we didn’t make them uncomfortable at all, all night.”
Wait one moment. There’s a little something in what D’Antoni said right there that slipped past any of the postgame narratives about Curry’s reemergence. To wit: “It’s a lot easier to shoot when you’re up 20.” That’s what the Warriors were for much of the night: up by a whole bunch. And that’s what allowed Curry to get loose.
The Rockets final lead of the game was with four minutes left in the first quarter, 22-20. The Warriors scored the next 13 points. By the end of the first half, the Warriors were up 11: Not yet a blowout, but a sizable halftime lead.
And Curry was not good during that first half. At one point he was 2-for-10 from the field, and 1-for-7 from 3. (“It was frustrating more so because I had the right intentions in the first half,” Curry said. “I got five wide-open 3s, and only one of them went in.”)
And it was only then, once the third quarter began, when Curry went on an absolutely unholy tear that eventually turned into a 41-point Warriors win, 126-85, the worst playoff loss in Rockets history. The reason Curry was afforded that opportunity — to keep shooting and shooting and shooting, loose and free and with a sizable lead, until the shots finally began to fall — was left unspoken after the game.