Stephen Curry cooks Rockets as Warriors take 2-1 lead

Three games into the much-anticipated Western Conference Finals, the Rockets and Warriors have yet to play a contested late-game minute. The Warriors won Game 1 comfortably, while Houston took Game 2 handily. But aside from the lopsided game-by-game results, the series has largely lived up to its promise. James Harden came out scorching in the opener, only to be matched by equally uncontainable performances from Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker — role players designed specifically to thwart these Warriors — swung Game 2.

Game 3, however, belonged to Stephen Curry, who propelled Golden State to a 126-85 win and a 2-1 series lead. In truth, Curry — averaging just 17 points on 15.4 percent shooting from 3 in the series — hadn’t played poorly, only momentarily lost the shooting touch so many have come to take for granted.

Despite his struggles from deep, Curry had plenty of success getting to and finishing around the rim, even against the length of Clint Capela, and orchestrating Golden State’s offense so that others could more easily make their impact. His 7.5 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game in the series both outpace his regular season marks, and the gravity he possesses on every offensive possession widens the floor for Durant and Thompson to operate. Were it not for a couple of shots not dropping, that version of Curry would have been unrecognizable from the one that fueled these Warriors all season.

Read More: Cavaliers get their mojo back in Game 3 blowout

Sunday’s contest began ominously for Curry. The Rockets wasted no time in targeting him — primarily via the pick-and-roll — and involving him in every action. Curry, meanwhile, appeared to lack the requisite intensity and engagement to do anything about it. Play after play, his man screened for James Harden, and play after play, Houston got whatever it wanted on offense.

Compounding matters was a 3-of-11 first-half shooting performance that threatened to elongate Curry’s slump. The game’s other stars didn’t look much better, and the two teams grinded out an ugly first half that saw less than 100 combined points. Had it not been for the efficient contributions of role players and Houston’s profound struggles from the field, Golden State’s 11-point halftime margin may well have gone the other way.

In truth, Curry and the Warriors were merely biding their time, outlasting another opponent until Curry found his touch and Golden State kicked into high gear. The third quarter was Houston’s highest-scoring frame of the game, yet it was no match for the onslaught they had to face. It was vintage Curry: a fully unleashed, all-powerful flamethrower capable of rendering even the most committed defensive efforts utterly inadequate. Curry netted 26 of his 35 points in the second half — including an 18-point barrage in the third quarter — with daggers from all over the floor, each more dazzling than the last.

It was also a classic showing from the Warriors, whose third-quarter margin in the playoffs is up to 77-points through 13 games. Once Curry got going, Durant got more comfortable. The offensive boost Curry provided seemed to fuel the Warriors on the other end of the floor. Golden State has owned the third period all season long, a testament to both the team’s endurance and ability to break off devastating runs that put the game out of reach. It felt as though Houston had been put away before it could even diagnose what had happened.

To their credit, the Rockets quelled Golden State’s initial third-quarter run with a 10-2 response, but they could only hold off the attack for so long. The rousing effect of the third quarter spilled over to the fourth, when the Warriors erased all hope of a Houston comeback. Draymond Green was everywhere on defense, altering shots at the rim from the weak side, containing Harden and Chris Paul on switches and battling on the glass for 17 rebounds while notching a team-high six assists. Jordan Bell, a new addition to Steve Kerr’s rotation, provided energetic — and slightly erratic — defensive contributions during the Warriors’ second-half run.

Game 3 had so many hallmarks of a peak Golden State performance: Durant picked his spots, quietly dropping 25 as Green and Andre Iguodala played their usual cagey all-around games. Golden State hit the 50/40/90 mark as a team while holding the Rockets to an uncharacteristically inefficient shooting night. The Warriors scored 23 fast break points and 28 points off turnovers compared to just eight giveaways of their own. That monster third-quarter run.

But perhaps most notably, Curry cooked, and when that’s the case, this team is damn near unbeatable.

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