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Kurtenbach: This series is over and other things we learned in the Warriors’ Game 3 blowout of the Rockets

OAKLAND — This series is over.
Let me explain.
I’m not basing this hashtag Hot Take solely on the Warriors’ dominant 41-point Game 3 win over the Rockets — it’s my verdict after taking the series’ first three games into account.
Though it helps to come out strong following a 41-point blowout.
No, this series is over because the Warriors finally played an A-plus game Sunday.
Going into Game 3, I wondered how things would look if both the Warriors and Rockets brought their best performances to the table — knowing full well basketball has many zero-sum qualities. I’ve now seen the Warriors’ best. I think I saw Houston’s best in Game 2.
There’s no doubt in my mind which is the better of the two.
And while I’d feel robbed if this series didn’t give us one truly competitive game — one game where both teams come out with laudable effort and crisp execution — there’s not much question in my mind who would win that contest.
As such, this series is done.
There are other reasons it’s over, of course.
Take, for instance, the fact that the Warriors have lost four playoffs games over the last two years and that the Rockets now need to beat them three out of the next four games.
Have you seen anything over the last three games to convince you that such a feat is possible?
Or the notion that not only will Kevin Durant and James Harden will effectively cancel each other out in every game, but that Warriors’ role players — Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green — are markedly better than the Rockets’ — Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker — and that Stephen Curry, now activated, is outperforming Chris Paul, even with only one good game under his belt.
(Not to mention that you’d much rather have Klay Thompson than Eric Gordon on your team because, well, defense matters.)
Seriously, where is the Rockets’ advantage here? Can they find it and exploit it to the tune of three more wins in this series?
This is why Game 3 was so important — not only was it a pivotal game, but it also eradicated the concept that these two teams are in a similar class. The Rockets might be better than the rest — there might be a large gap between Houston and 28 other teams — but the Warriors are in a class of their own, and Sunday’s game showed there’s a large gap between them and the second-best team.
This isn’t to say that the Warriors will win this in 5 — if this squad has proven anything its that their interest wanes — but it is to say that Golden State is in full control of their own destiny.
The Warriors might have lost games this year, but they’re yet to be defeated. There is a difference, and it’s what separates good from truly great.
Here’s what else we learned in the Warriors’ onslaught of the Rockets:

Steph Curry is back

Curry scored 35 points on Sunday. The dam broke and the entire series changed in the process.
This series was competitive when the Rockets merely had to contend with Curry being an inefficient role-player. Now that he’s making shots, there’s no counterpunch to be thrown.
It’s really quite as simple as that.
Going into Sunday’s game, I maintained that Curry was healthy — that his knee wasn’t the problem. The fact that he could score at the rim was all I needed to see to be convinced of that. Remember in 2016, when Curry was rushed back from an MCL injury in his right knee? Well, in that postseason, Curry wasn’t able to shoot from distance or finish at the rim.
After all, it requires explosiveness and lift for a player of Curry’s stature to make something happen at the rim. In this series there had been plenty of opportunities to show that — the Rockets are hyper-aggressive in running him (or anyone, for that matter) off the 3-point line, effectively giving Curry a clear path to the basket every time he touched the ball. The guard’s points were coming off of those drives.
What Curry didn’t have was his 3-point shot, and on Sunday, he was forcing up 3s, hoping one would fall and he’d establish a rhythm.
It wasn’t until the second half, when Curry started bypassing the 3 and merely taking the opportunities the defense was giving him — “hitting singles” to steal a term from Steve Kerr — that the 3-pointers started falling.
Curry willingly attacking the basket — as per the Rockets’ will — forced them to question if that was the right strategy. Suddenly, they weren’t totally committed to running Curry off the 3-point line — they left him some space. And everyone knows how little space Curry needs to shoot.
There’s no doubt that home court was helpful to Curry’s third-quarter flurry. He was amped, the crowd was amped, the Warriors were amped — after a skittish first half, there was nothing but good vibes floating around the arena. The Warriors need to tap into that again in Game 4. If they do, Game 5 might be a perfunctory affair.

Something is up with CP3
As I said before: Harden and Durant are effectively canceling each other out. That’s not a problem for either team.
Up until Sunday, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul were canceling each other out as well.
We know what happened with Curry. To be honest, we don’t know what’s wrong with Paul.
Paul is most likely injured — the scuttlebutt is a right ankle problem — but his inability to factor into the game could be psychological as well. It’s not like the guy has a reputation for coming up huge in big games — much less in the Conference Finals (it’s his first).
The Rockets stand no chance of winning another game, much less this series, if CP3, who missed his first six shots Sunday, can’t perform — unless Curry is going to go back to being a non-factor.

Steve Kerr is a factor in this series
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr reacts after a call while playing against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Kerr gets a lot of guff from fans for his coaching decisions, but he was stellar on Sunday.
He staggered Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry — keeping at least one on the floor for most of the game. Great adjustment.
He didn’t play David West, instead, giving his minutes to Jordan Bell. Good adjustment, even though Bell made it tough at times (it’s clear he at least stands a chance, though.)
He ran more of the Warriors’ offense through Draymond Green than Kevin Durant — the isolation looks were still there, but the Warriors had to move the ball to get to those looks (if they needed them). Good adjustment.
He tried to hedge the Rockets’ high screens to target Curry, and while those didn’t work, it was a good idea.
He was able to get the Warriors to understand that when guarding Harden, you’re going to lose on dribble penetration, so you need to rudder his movements: You let him drive towards the lane when Clint Capela is on the court — as Draymond Green is going to be guarding him, giving him a chance to leave his man and blow up the play, without jeopardizing too much — and when Tucker is at center, you don’t give up the middle and hope Harden pulls up for a mid-range jump shot, as Green can’t help at the hoop in that defense.
It took a while, but the Warriors — specifically Curry, when he wasn’t going for ill-advised steals — bought into the game plan.
Talent has a lot to do with the Warriors’ success, but Kerr proved on Sunday that he’s pretty talented at his job, too.

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