Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
Stephen Curry has earned a brief reprieve from any questions about his knee. The two-time MVP exploded for 35 points as the Warriors blew past the Rockets in Game 3 of the West finals, winning 126–85. A third-quarter explosion from Curry turned the fourth quarter into extended garbage time. James Harden and Chris Paul had subpar performances, scoring 20 and 13 points, respectively, as they struggled to find good looks against a committed Warriors’ defense.
Golden State was its best self on the defensive end Sunday. A decent chunk of Houston’s offense comes down to shot-making, but the Warriors denied the Rockets easy looks. Houston shot a paltry 40% from the field in Game 3, and made only 11 threes after connecting on 16 in Game 2. Harden and Paul were met with a gang of defenders at the rim Sunday night, and the Rockets’ role players couldn’t lift them up. Paul especially looked off, and after Curry answered numerous questions about his knee, it may now be fair to wonder if Paul himself is not 100% in this series. CP3 made only five of his 16 shots and looked uncomfortable both in the paint and beyond the arc.
Houston is already facing an uphill climb when Harden and Paul combine to shoot 12-of-32. The supporting cast failed to have the same impact it had in the previous game. Gerald Green’s 20 minutes were arguably 20 too many, while Luc Mbah a Moute was somehow a minus-28 in only 15 minutes. The Rockets entered this series feeling confident about their depth, but Eric Gordon—who can be streaky himself—has looked like the only reliable bench piece through three games. The magic of Houston’s offense is based largely on how well Harden and Paul can set up their teammates, but Golden State’s length and energy was too overwhelming Sunday. The Rockets finished with 19 turnovers, and a ghastly offensive rating of 89.4.
For Houston to win, all of its role players need to step up. The margin of error against the Warriors is too slim, particularly when Curry wakes up like he did in Game 3. Curry looked like his old self in the blowout win. He hit five of his 12 three-pointers, including four of his last six. Curry struggled to start the game, but after finding his way to some tough scores in the paint, he regained his rhythm from the outside. One game won’t quell every concern for Curry’s health moving forward, but he at least showed he’s capable of reaching his stratospheric heights for a lengthy stretch. Unlike Houston, Golden State has a massive margin for error, so the Dubs can afford Curry’s slumps if he eventually goes off.
It’s not sexy, but outside of Curry, turnovers played a huge part in the Warriors’ win. Giveaways are often a good barometer for how much focus Golden State is employing any given night. After 15 turnovers in Game 2, the Warriors only had eight Sunday. They took 12 more shots than Houston as well as five more free throws. With all the extra opportunities, Golden State happily took advantage.
There won’t be an easy fix for the Rockets headed into Game 4, especially if the Warriors’ defense remains as locked in as it was in Game 3. Houston can’t magically expect to shoot better at the rim, and for most of this series, the Dubs have done an excellent job of staying with opposing shooters. Harden and Paul can play better, but there’s a feeling that their individual brilliance can’t make up for the stark difference in talent.
By the end of Game 3, the Warriors showed why a title run seems like an inevitability, and playoff games a formality. Houston may be running out of counters other than to play much better and hope that aggression causes Golden State to play worse. But the Rockets can’t keep losing games to remind themselves how little they can afford to slip up against one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
Game 4 is Tuesday.
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