The two-time MVP finally arrived in the Western Conference Finals with a 35-point explosion in Game 3 to lead Golden State in 126-85 blowout win over the Houston Rockets.
Curry had 34 points total through the first two contests in Houston and even though the Warriors took Game 1, their sharpshooter’s struggles kept them from imposing their true identity.
That changed on Sunday as Curry found solace at home to put any injury concerns over his knee in the rearview mirror.
It didn’t look like Game 3 would provide that setting after Curry missed five of his first six shots from long range in the first half. Curry, however, let loose in the third quarter – as he’s so often done – by knocking down all seven of his shots, including two 3-pointers, to pour in 18 points and blow the game open.
Curry has now scored at least 17 points in a playoff quarter 10 times, with seven of those coming in the third quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“There’s obviously that anticipation when you come in transition and you find an open look and there’s a collective hush in the crowd, especially in this building,” Curry said.
“It’s a cool moment. I was searching for it in the first half. I had plenty of opportunities, I just couldn’t knock it down. Third quarter it opened up. I’ve been doing it for a while. I won’t let two tough games shooting keep me frustrated.”
After nailing a floater during his sizzling run in the third quarter, Curry even faced the crowd, took out his mouthpiece and shouted “This is my f****** house!”
The emotions were that of a player who finally got to release some built-up frustration.
“A lot of it was just [me] talking to myself, almost like you’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes,” Curry said. “No matter what questions I was being asked over the first two games or what the expectations was, I had the highest expectations for myself. And you’ve just got to – find whatever you want to get going.
“I mean, obviously, it felt good, and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you’re here, you’re with them, get the crowd into it. But it’s one game, and you’ve got to have that same type of energy and intentions and focus the next game and the right approach. So, I did my job tonight. I’ve got to do it again.”
Aside from the sharpshooter going off, there were other factors at work in Golden State taking a 2-1 series lead.
Here are five takeaways from Game 3.
Rockets shoot themselves in foot
Houston have an extremely thing margin of error – if one at all – against Golden State, so they can’t fumble away opportunities like they did in Game 3. The Rockets shot just 13-of-27 in the restricted area and 4-of-9 on corner 3s. There were simply too many misses point-blank and while that 3-point shooting percentage isn’t bad, it’s not enough to beat the Warriors on their home floor.
There’s been a lot of focus on how much the Rockets have hunted Curry when they have the ball, but Golden State are using a similar tactic against James Harden. When Harden was the primary defender in Game 3, the Warriors shot 7-of-12, with Curry and Kevin Durant going 5-of-6. Durant in particular looked to attack whenever Harden was on him and that should continue to be a theme in the rest of the series.
Paul can’t help shoulder load
Houston have no chance in this series if Harden and Chris Paul are going to both have off-games at the same time. In Game 3, Paul was the worst of the two and never looked fully comfortable attacking the Warriors’ defence. There would be times he got by his defender and into the lane, only to get stuck and have to pass it out. He’s shooting just 40.4 per cent overall and 25.0 per cent from deep in the series.
Chris Paul can’t shake Kevon Looney (he’s been sensational in the first half) pic.twitter.com/riRd3HqoDm— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 21, 2018
Kevon makes Houston go Looney
He won’t get much attention because the score was so lopsided and he played just over 15 minutes, but Kevon Looney was an absolute force defensively in Game 3. He doesn’t offer much spacing or offence on the other end, but his length, athleticism and effort made it hard for Houston players to score in the paint. Looney finished with a defensive rating of 69.3 points for the game and has a mark of 88.4 for the series.
Turnovers are deadly
This isn’t exactly a revelation, but turning the ball over against Golden State is fatal. The Rockets experienced that first-hand when they lost possession 20 times, leading to 28 points for the Warriors. Dead-ball turnovers, like shot-clock violations, aren’t as killer as live-ball turnovers, but both kinds will obviously hurt you, especially in an environment like Oracle Arena.
After failing to provide LeBron James with much help in the first two contests in Boston, the Cavaliers looked like a whole team again at Quicken Loans Arena as several members of the supporting cast provided valuable contributions.
While Cleveland’s offence responded with a strong effort which saw six players score in double figures and shoot 17-of-34 from long range, their cohesion was arguably more noticeable on the other end.
“Even when things broke down, we just covered for one another,” James said of the team defence. “We made them make extra passes. We made them make extra dribbles. We were flying around, and I just happened to be one of the guys on the floor that wanted to fly around as well.”
In Boston, the Celtics seemingly got any shot they wanted whenever they moved the ball, averaging 55.0 points in the paint and 101 uncontested shots in total in the wins.
The Cavaliers, however, offered much more resistance in Game 3, surrendering just 34 points in the paint and contesting 76 per cent of Boston’s shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It was a flip from the first two games of the series, when the Celtics were the more physical team and made everything hard fro Cleveland.
“Just the physicality. Not letting them be comfortable, communicating on screens, things like that,” George Hill said.
“From Game 1 and 2 to Game 3, what we did better was when guys did make mistakes, we had teammates there. That extra effort and energy wasn’t there in Game 1 and 2. It cost us a lot of wide-open 3s, and I don’t think they got a lot of those today.”
Cleveland were clearly the more desperate team as they brought their best to avoid falling into an insurmountable 3-0 hole, but Boston had the look of a side that had become too comfortable after holding serve at home.
Celtics guard Terry Rozier said as much, stating: “We needed to get our butts whooped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”
He added: “I feel like we needed this to get us back, to get us ready for Monday.”
Boston, who have been a different team on the road than at home in these playoffs, will try to win just their second game in hostile territory in Game 4 on Monday (UAE: 04:00 +1).