OAKLAND, Calif. — For three days, the health and confidence of Stephen Curry fueled a level of uncertainty around the Western Conference finals. These Golden State Warriors are the league’s ultimate juggernaut, the addition of Kevin Durant to Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green giving the franchise a cruel advantage. It’s basketball brilliance, four All-Stars and a former Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala creating the ultimate powerhouse for today’s sport.
Yet after a lackluster effort by Curry and the Warriors in the West finals in Wednesday’s Game 2, the two-time MVP appeared resolute. Curry had listened to questions about the stability of his body and mind.
So here came Curry’s onslaught in Game 3 on Sunday night: 35 points, six rebounds, 13-of-23 shooting and five 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 126-85 victory over Houston. His teammates finally witnessed Curry’s swagger for the first time this postseason, the shimmying after a 3-pointer and a prolific message during his third-quarter outburst.
“This is my [expletive] house,” Curry yelled after a bucket, and hours later he walked out of Oracle Arena to greet his family in the bowels of the building. The breakthrough moment in these playoffs, a 2-1 series lead, and the re-establishment of the Warriors as the championship favorites in his steps ahead.
“I saw the ball go in, and from there I was in the right place of mind,” Curry said Sunday night. “I had amnesia, really. In my head, I’m 0-for-0 or 10-for-10 … I’m feeling good.”
Around Curry, team executives and those close to him rave about his muscle memory, about the power of seeing one in-rhythm jumper swish through the net. It was coming; it was due. He had missed 12 of 19 shots in a lackluster Game 2 performance, and it led to questions about the full health of his knee.
Curry, who suffered a right MCL sprain in late March, has maintained his mindset: Everyone’s banged up this time of year, battling through their bumps along the way. His movement on both ends — his ability to drive by bigger defenders, his defensive slides — had appeared reminiscent of his return from a similar MCL sprain in the 2016 playoffs, and that had limited him some. As one person close to Curry told Yahoo Sports: “The knee is fine. He found his rhythm, seeing the ball go in, and that was key.”
“You can’t press,” Curry said, “and never lose confidence.”
Added Warriors coach Steve Kerr: “Once the dam broke in the third quarter … there is just this synergy between the fans and Steph.”
The hot streaks Thompson and Durant can rip are incredible, but none has the same effect of Curry’s barrages in this arena.
The Rockets’ two stars, James Harden and Chris Paul, struggled to put their imprint on the game: They missed 20 of 32 field goals, 10 of 14 3-pointers, and combined for just 33 points. Thompson scored 13 points and stifled Harden, with Durant scoring 25 points, Green supplying 17 rebounds, 10 points and six assists, and Iguodala and Shaun Livingston combining for 19 points.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni claimed his team went “soft,” lacking the disposition to withstand the Warriors’ runs. His stars missed easy shots in the first half, and the flow never returned for the Rockets.
Their defense had flourished for one night, in Game 2, when D’Antoni and his staff changed his scheme to a “triple-switching” defense. Looking back, Curry’s off night likely brought an overstated shine to the Rockets’ plan. So there was Curry in pregame warmups on Sunday, even as the national anthem was about to begin, taking long-range shots and sharpening his stroke while wearing his sweatsuit before joining Durant in the team’s line.
Curry walked out of Oracle Arena on Sunday, meeting his kids in the family hallway. The Warriors are two wins from their fourth consecutive NBA Finals berth, but a most critical thing happened Sunday night: Stephen Curry and Golden State restored themselves as the most feared standing.
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