Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors Have Become NBA's Kings of the 3rd Quarter

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 26:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates his three point shot in the second half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 26, 2018 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

NEW YORK — For 24 minutes Monday night, the lottery-bound New York Knicks were able to hang with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. They even entered their Madison Square Garden locker room at halftime with a one-point lead, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Lance Thomas.

The Knicks and Warriors returned to the court 15 minutes later for the start of the third quarter—and that was the beginning of the end for New York. Draymond Green kicked off Golden State's scoring spree by banking in a three. Then Stephen Curry drilled a 26-footer, and Klay Thompson splashed in a triple of his own. 

By the end of the third, the Warriors had pushed their lead out to 20 with a 39-18 period en route to a 125-111 victory over the drowning Knicks. The win lifted the Warriors to just a half game behind the top-seeded Houston Rockets in the Western Conference standings.

For the Warriors, the blowout followed a familiar blueprint. The game represented the seventh time this season that the Warriors outscored their opponents by 20 points or more in the third quarter. This year, Golden State has outscored opponents in the third by a total of 330 points. For comparison, the second-best mark in the league is 164 and belongs to the Denver Nuggets.

Only three teams in the entire league have a total plus/minus of 330 over all four quarters for the whole season. The Warriors are better in the third quarter alone than 27 teams are over 48 minutes. 

Their explosive offense becomes even more lethal in third quarters, their stingy defense even tighter.

Warriors' Third-Quarter Dominance
Offensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
Overall114.1103.610.6
Third Quarter120.699.021.6
NBA.com

And it's largely because the face of their franchise becomes even more dangerous.

Stephen Curry Go Bonkers After Halftime
Pts Per 36Reb Per 363PT%Net Rating
All Four Quarters29.35.442.114.6
Third Quarter31.36.351.329.7
NBA.com

Against the Knicks, Curry's third-quarter dominance was on full display. He put up 14 points on 5-of-9 from the field (including 3-of-5 from deep). Thing is, these sorts of third-quarter showings from him are no longer unique.

For the second season in three years, Curry is leading the league in third-quarter scoring (9.9 points per game). Among players averaging at least 30 minutes per contest, he also has the top offensive and net ratings and plays at the fastest pace during third periods.

Curry seems to do his own best work coming out of halftime—and not just on offense. Throughout 2017-18, his own personal bests in points scored per quarter, as well as offensive rating, have come in the third, but it's his defensive rating that especially stands out. His 97.7 defensive rating is a significant jump from the 106.1 he's posting for the year and is along the lines of what players such as Andre Roberson (96.4) and Rudy Gobert (99.3) have done this season.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

After Monday's game, Curry told reporters: "We wear teams down over the course of 48 minutes. It might take 24 to 26 minutes to really create the separation." 

That, according to Kerr, is the best explanation for the way the Warriors have been able to consistently blitz opponents coming out of the half.

"It's not like we're doing anything different. We wear teams down a little bit; we have a lot of talent," Kerr said. "If we move the ball, forcing a lot of defensive rotations, maybe by the third quarter, it starts to wear on teams." 

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Third quarters have come to symbolize exactly what it is that makes the Warriors so great: the ability to catch fire in a short span and, within just a few minutes, put games out of reach. Which is exactly why this trend should be so frightening for the rest of the league.

Monday's third-quarter blitz came just 48 hours after they did the same thing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. On Saturday, the Warriors trailed 59-58 with 7:35 remaining in the third quarter, but they outscored the Thunder 26-7 to close the third. For the quarter, Golden State had an 80.6 defensive rating and outrebounded OKC 15-7.

"Early on, shots didn't fall at all," Green told Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher after that game. "But when you play defense like that, you give yourself a chance."

And this isn't a recent trend, either. On Dec. 4, the Warriors trailed the New Orleans Pelicans by 20 at halftime after an awful 36-23 second quarter. They then outscored the Pels 39-22 in the third thanks to a 15-0 run after halftime. They hit seven threes in the period, assisted on all 15 of their field goals, forced five turnovers and posted an absolutely outrageous net rating of plus-57.7.

All season, Golden State, one of the greatest collections of talent professional sports has ever seen, has coasted. The Dubs have dropped 14 games this year after not losing more than 15 in any of the previous three. There are times when they're sloppy with the ball or lazy with their cuts. They can be weak with their closeouts early and fall behind, only to erase all those mistakes with a smooth 12-minute burst.

Twelve minutes is all they need. That might not cut it come postseason, but it serves as a nice reminder of just how dominant this team is, no matter where it winds up in the standings.

"When we're locked in, taking care of the ball, playing solid defense on most possessions, there's a point where we can break open the game," Curry said. "And that's what happened tonight."

It could happen every night in the playoffs, too. Take these third quarters as further proof of the Warriors' greatness and their standing as the heavy favorites to repeat as champions. 

       

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here and sign up for his newsletter here.

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