OAKLAND — Stephen Curry, at long last, was feeling it.
After going 3-for-20 from behind the 3-point line in the first 10 quarters of the Western Conference Finals, the two-time MVP’s shots started falling in the third quarter of Sunday’s Game 3. He was getting to the rim with impunity, and that opened up the court. First, he made a 30-foot jumper. Then a 3 in the face of Rockets start James Harden.
The floodgates had opened, the swagger had returned, and the shimmy was back in vogue.
And after he drove past Trevor Ariza with 3:35 remaining in Warriors’ haymaker frame, leading to a smooth-as-silk scoop shot at the rim, Curry let everyone know that he was back.
“This is my house,” he proclaimed to the Oracle Arena crowd. (There might have been an extra adjective that we cannot print.)
Yes, the Chef was back and cooking in his kitchen, scoring 35 points and sparking his team to a 126-85 onslaught of the Rockets.
Curry scored 18 points in the third quarter, going 7-for-7 from the field, 2-of-2 from beyond the 3-point line and making both of his free throws. It was spellbinding, joy-filled, and a massive relief for the nearly 20,000 in attendance at Oracle Arena.
And the game — already in the Warriors’ control — became out of control in what seemed like mere seconds.
The Warriors’ Game 3 blowout win wasn’t just a pivotal result in a once-tied series — it was an order-restoring win for the Warriors.
Golden State looked good without a serious Curry contribution in the first half of Game 3, just as they looked solid when Curry was fighting through a rut in the team’s Game 1 win.
Curry missed six of his first seven 3-pointers Sunday, but the Warriors opened up an 11-point lead on Houston behind swarming and cohesive team defense, 15 Kevin Durant points, and a 10-point contribution from a fully-engaged Andre Iguodala.
Golden State was in a good position without Curry being at the height of his powers. They probably — most likely — would have won without him finding his stroke Sunday.
But where would the fun be in that?
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) smiles while sitting on the bench during a timeout against the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, May 20, 2018. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 126-85. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Remember, the Rockets were impressive in a Game 2 win, coming at the Warriors with “force” (that’s the buzzword of the series for both teams). But Sunday was the first time Houston had to contend with an engaged Warriors’ defense led by Draymond Green and Iguodala, an offense that features the impossible-to-guard Kevin Durant, and a Curry who is making his trademark deep 3-pointers.
“We’ve seen this so many times with Steph,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “All it takes is one. I thought he was pressing a little bit early, but I was never concerned. This guy… bounced back from bad games as well as anybody I’ve ever seen, so it didn’t surprise me.”
Curry’s first big game in this series shows how truly wide the gap between these two teams — considered by all to be the top two squads in the NBA — can be.
In a word: massive.
The 41-point margin of victory was the largest for the Warriors in the franchise’s postseason history and the largest loss in Rockets’ postseason history.
Though to be fair, those other Rockets teams didn’t have to play these Warriors.
Yes, now that Curry is out of his funk, the Warriors look like an unbeatable juggernaut once again.
The trick, of course, is maintaining that level of play moving forward.
Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) celebrates his basket against the Houston Rockets in the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Game 4 looms large. If the Warriors win, they’ll effectively claim the series. (Have you seen anything from the Rockets that gives you the impression they could win back-to-back games against the Warriors, much less three in a row?) A Golden State loss, however, and the Warriors are looking down the pipe at a long series where the Rockets have home-court advantage.
There’s no time for complacency after Sunday’s onslaught.
“I wish it was a cumulative score,” Curry joked.
“We’re right back where we want to be,” Kerr said. “But we’re not naive enough to think what happened tonight is an indication of what will happen in a couple of days.”
The Warriors could take a page out of Curry’s book and develop amnesia ahead of Game 4.
That the feeling Curry said he had before he knocked down his first 30-point 3-pointer of the series Sunday — his hallmark shot, the one Green described as the equivalent of a dunk, and the one that sparked the Warriors’ huge Curry-led third-quarter run:
“In that moment, in my head am I 0-for-0 or am I 10-for-10?” Curry said. “[Either way] I’m feeling good in that moment. Just shoot it. You can’t second guess your first instinct.”
Curry doesn’t have to lie to himself anymore. He’s feeling good in reality. And that should have Warriors fans feeling good too.