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OAKLAND – All season long, the Golden State Warriors have been practically unbeatable when Stephen Curry goes off in the third quarter.
Tuesday night, Curry did it again, scoring 17 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors were beaten, losing 95-92 to a Houston Rockets team that displayed a level of grit as stunning as their victory.
After suffering a 41-point drubbing two nights earlier, the Rockets fell behind 12-0 and trailed by 12 again, 82-70, a minute into the fourth quarter. They overcame that by allowing only 10 more points, over 11 minutes. The 12-point quarter was the worst in Warriors playoff history.
“I thought this is the highest level we’ve ever played defensively, without a doubt,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “Because you’re talking about maybe the best offensive team ever, and they got on a roll.”
Indeed they did, especially Curry. With 17 points in the third quarter, the Warriors guard equaled the production of the entire Rockets team. He scored 11 points in a span of 96 seconds to take the Warriors from down five to up 3 at 68-65. By the end of the third quarter, it was 80-70.
And then came the fourth.
“Fourth quarter, 12 points,” said Rockets center Clint Capela. “That was really major.”
“They’re a really big third-quarter team,” said Rockets guard Eric Gordon. “We just can’t get discouraged. We have to continue to play our game and we’ll have our chances.”
Aiding the Rockets’ cause was guard Chris Paul, who despite nursing a sore foot, scored 27 points, including a free throw that put the Rockets ahead 95-92 with 0:05 showing on the clock.
“Man, he’s been doing it for so long. Now he has an opportunity to do it on this stage,” said Houston star James Harden, who led all scorers with 30 points. “I mean, everybody knows how great he is, from his passing ability to his big shot-making ability, and even to his defense. He was huge for us tonight.”
The Rockets win was vital considering they were on the brink of falling behind 3-1 in the series. Falling behind 12-0 — the Rockets did not score until the 6:42 mark — was hardly the start they needed.
“We just kept playing,” Paul said. “We knew that at some point we were going to score. So when it did happen, we tried to get some stops. When they made their push in the third quarter, you just know at some point they’re going to do it. They’re capable of it, but we are too.”
Last summer, the Rockets, already armed with Harden, traded for Paul, a nine-time all-star, to match up with the defending champion Warriors. In December, with the team off to a 25-5 start, Rockets general manager Daryl Mowry volunteered that the entire Houston organization was “basically obsessed with ‘How do we beat the Warriors?'”
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Now they’ve done it twice in this series, and four times since the season began. Twice more would put the Rockets into the NBA Finals. Their stunning Game 4 victory has turned this series into a best-of-three with Game 5 on Thursday night in Houston.
“It was a huge win, but it means nothing now going back,” said Rockets forward Trevor Ariza. “It’s going to be a new game, a different type of game.”
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