Stephen Curry seems sufficiently and ostentatiously cured of whatever ailed him, so after three games of the Western Conference Final the narrative chasers have to hunt down a new barking dog.
And maybe it will be "How hurt is Chris Paul?" It's hard to kill an injury narrative once it gets up to speed, and it's often easier to just reassign it.
Golden State's whirlwind, 126-85 mega-rout of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 returned us to the aftermath of Game 1 when everyone was sure that Houston was incapable of a proportionate response...until Houston did indeed respond in Game 2.
But the possibilities narrow as any series goes deeper, and the Warriors put down the heaviest hammer yet, forcing 19 Houston turnovers, crowding an apparently limited Paul (5-for-16, 13 points in 33 minutes) and James Harden (7-of-16 for 20 in 33 minutes) as they had crowded Curry, and doing it so comprehensively that none of the other Rockets had the will or capability to help ease the pain. The 41-point win was the largest in Warriors' postseason history, and conversely the defeat was the most lopsided in Rockets' postseason history.
And Game 4 is still in Oakland. And Curry is whole again, dancing again, and has his oppressor's soul again.
He started slowly as though all his injuries had united as one to break his spirit, and the Rockets had seemingly figured out how to exploit those wounds and rendered him a liability. He missed eight of his first ten shots and six of his first seven threes, and was 3-for-20 from three in the first 109 quarters of this series. You could imagine climbing inside the skull of Oracle Arena and hear it think, "Can the Warriors win this series without Curry's help at all?"
And then he slapped sense back into everyone with an 18-point third quarter in which he made all seven of his shots, going boldly to the basket and thus freeing his looks from distance. He energized a crowd on the edge of paralysis and broke the Rockets' best chance to bring the defending champions to heel.
He finished with 35, returned the joyful anticipation to his building and the conspicuous brass back into his post-score celebrations. In fact, after one such score, he chose to discuss his Wolverine-like healing powers with an appreciative audience and needed to remind himself that there was defense to be played on the ensuing possession.
In sum, he was playing to tell the world to stop talking about his shot as though it had been hit by a bus. And the world obeyed, loudly and abjectly, as it typically does with him.
"I thought he was pressing a little bit early..." head coach Steve Kerr said of Curry, "but he bounces back as well from bad games as anyone I've ever seen. I've seen this a lot of times, so no, I wasn't worried."
"His three is like someone else's dunk," Draymond Green said. "I don't mean to disappoint, but I've seen crazier from him."
"It was frustrating that I had the right intentions, got five wide open threes and only one went in," Curry said. "You keep searching for the right openings...saw the opening and just hit singles, like Coach likes to say.
"I've just been talking to myself. You have to be your biggest fan sometimes. You gotta find whatever it is to get you going, use that energy to let your teammates know you're with ‘em. I did my job tonight, and now I have to do it again."
Yeah. Easy as that.
Then again, it was delivered in the perfect context in a postseason that has struggled to find close games and great moments. Indeed, this was the standout game in a set of conference final games that have been remarkable for their lack of competitiveness. Only three other conference finals in league history have been decided by such a huge margin, and the average score in the six games to date has been 117-93.
And now that Stephen Curry has healed himself, the only reason to think this series could change again is if Houston has a new way to break his spirit. Historically, though, Curry is not recaptured once he breaks free of an opponents' clutches, so it may very well be that this series was crushed for good Sunday night, and the only thing left for anyone to see is Curry's smile.
The one that belies his essential ruthlessness.
Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm