Although the Golden State Warriors have been dominant all year, many of their playoff games thus far have had an intriguing narrative.
New Orleans provided some unique matchup issues and that series, while a sweep, saw some drastic lead changes and swings in momentum. Memphis issued a serious test to the body and the mind of Golden State, tests that the Warriors passed with flying colors after dominating in the face of a potential 3-1 series deficit.
In this round, Houston came up just short in each of the first two games, but the incredible play of James Harden put them one possession away from stealing homecourt advantage.
This game though, this was a demolition. There was no narrative. This was the Warriors exclaiming, “Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station.”
Playing in front of a boisterous home crowd, Houston came out energized, most notably with an explosive turn-back-the-clock dunk by Dwight Howard. Golden State wasn’t fazed and used precision passing to get easy looks early and nudge ahead. After weathering the initial storm, the Warriors pushed their lead into double digits by the end of the quarter.
Up 49-32, just as they had been in Game 2 before frittering it away, Golden State would not cede the lead on this night. Powered by Stephen Curry, the Warriors put their foot down and essentially ended this one before halftime.
Though Curry poured in 15 points in that second quarter, the play that may have exemplified Game 3 best was Curry boxing out Howard for an offensive rebound. He later added another offensive board off of a missed Klay Thompson triple, whipping it back to Thompson who had floated into the corner. Splash, Warriors go up 57-35.
Carrying a 62-37 lead into the third, the Rockets narrowed the gap to under 20 (the horror!) until Curry slammed that door shut, hitting a tough high-banking layup, then a floater, then a three that was eerily similar to his game-tying miracle in Game 3 against New Orleans after Thompson’s blocked shot at the rim caromed to him in the corner.
That was the story of this game: Curry was other-worldly, the Warriors made all the effort and energy plays while also taking care of the ball (just one first half turnover) and Houston simply didn’t play well.
As Curry concurrently dazzled and dominated, Harden was unable to summon the masterful play he’d shown in the first pair of games. He finished just 3-16 for 17 points and despite decent lines for Howard (14 and 14) and Josh Smith (16/8/4), no one else was able to carry the load. In 35 minutes, Curry totaled 40 points on 12-19 from the floor, including 7-9 from beyond the arc and 9-10 at the line. By himself he outscored Harden, Howard and Trevor Ariza, who combined for 38.
The key players all finished this one watching from the pine, as Golden State cruised to a 35-point victory, the second largest win for a road team in Conference Finals history. Speaking of history, Curry passed Reggie Miller for most threes in a single postseason. He’s now the first player to hit 60 and would have a shot at 100 if his team weren’t so dominant.
Much of the postgame has revolved around Houston mailing it in or capitulating to a superior team, and that ignores that a lot of their struggles revolved around poor shooting. Ariza has gone dormant, Jason Terry gave them nothing and none of their spark plugs off the bench provided a lift, which all adds up to 33.7 percent shooting and 5-for-25 from three as a team. Most importantly, it ignores that it really doesn’t matter what Houston does. When Golden State plays like they did in Game 3, they will defeat any opponent.
Whether this series ends in four or five games, it is, for all intents and purposes, over. The only challenge left in an all-time great year for the best team in the league is a series against the best player in the league on the sport’s biggest stage.