Red-Hot Stephen Curry Leads Warriors to Game 3 Blowout vs. James Harden, Rockets

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 20:  Stephen Curry #30 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors high five during the game against the Houston Rockets in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors took a 2-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals with a 126-85 victory Sunday night at home at Oracle Arena.

Stephen Curry led all scorers with 35 points, while Kevin Durant chipped in with 25. Draymond Green posted his first double-double of the series (10 points, 17 rebounds).

Golden State did well to keep James Harden in check for the most part, holding him to 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting.

     

Shimmying Stephen Curry Reminds Fans Whose House It Is

In the first two games, Curry was a combined 2-of-13 from beyond the arc. That didn't matter too much in Game 1, as the Rockets had no answer for Durant. Curry's poor shooting was a bigger factor in Game 2, when Houston ran Golden State off the floor.

The Rockets have a chance of dethroning the reigning champions if Curry isn't himself. The Warriors become basically unbeatable when the two-time MVP is at his best.

Curry had 18 points in the third quarter alone as he brought Oracle Arena to life. His hot shooting in that quarter helped eliminate any chance of a Houston comeback in the second half.

Opposing teams can only do so much to guard a team that can call upon Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—a group that includes two of this generation's best scorers. If this version of Curry continues showing up in the playoffs, then Golden State is likely to have another easy path to an NBA title.

     

Warriors Dismantle Rockets' Comeback Hopes With Dominant 3rd Quarter 

At halftime, the Rockets trailed 54-43. An 11-point deficit wasn't impossible to overcome, even in raucous Oracle Arena, given the strength of Houston's offense. Then, the Warriors opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run.

Houston responded with a run of its own, but that did little to stem the game's tide.

The third quarter is generally when Golden State has put teams to the sword this year. According to NBA.com, the Warriors had an absurd 18.5 net rating in the third quarter during the regular season, which was best in the league. The Denver Nuggets were second, with a 7.8 net rating.

How the Rockets handle the remaining third quarters will determine whether they can overcome their series deficit. Allowing Golden State to build momentum coming out of halftime is a recipe for disaster.

The Rockets had a 14-point halftime lead in Game 2, and that may be what it takes to counter the inevitable second-half surge from the Warriors in Game 4.

     

Banged Up Chris Paul's Nightmare Night Keeps Rockets Grounded

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 20:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets stand on the court during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 20, 2018 in Oakland, Calif
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Chris Paul finished with a relatively empty double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), as the Rockets were minus-18 with him on the floor. He also had just four assists, tied for his second-fewest this postseason.

Many wondered whether Paul was carrying an injury, which led to his underwhelming performance.

Whatever the reason, the Rockets can't afford to have Paul failing to be a true No. 2 scoring option behind Harden. Houston isn't going to get 68 points from the trio of Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker—as they did in Game 2—in every game.

For Paul, another playoff exit where he has a nondescript final series would erase a lot of the goodwill and praise he generated from finally reaching a conference finals. 

     

Another Conference Finals Game, Another Blowout

Fans hoping to see any drama over the past week have been left wanting. None of the six conference finals games have been decided by single digits, and Sunday's blowout reached historic proportions.

That trend looks more likely to continue in the Western Conference Finals based on Curry's showing. As good as the Rockets were in the regular season, the Warriors remain a class apart when they are operating at full capacity.

The Cleveland Cavaliers humbled the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals following two decisive defeats. The Celtics have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this year, so the gulf between them and the Cavs should close when they meet again Monday night.

Regardless, it would be nice to see some games go down to the wire.

        

What's Next?

A return to Oracle Arena for Game 4 is set for Tuesday night. Losing Game 3 could be devastating for the Rockets, since it opens the door for the Warriors to build an almost insurmountable 3-1 series lead before things shift back to Toyota Center.

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