Stephen Curry was on his way to two days of online debate about what was wrong with his game. Curry, the two-time winner of the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award, looked tentative and lost. His shots were not falling, he was being exposed badly on defense, and his team was winning in spite of him rather than because of him.
Then came a transcendent third quarter on Sunday in which Curry looked positively Steph Curry-like. He made all seven of his shots, two of which were long 3-pointers, and finished the quarter with a team-high 18 points, matching his highest point total in the first two games of the Western Conference finals in a single period.
The quarter, in which the Warriors’ lead over the Houston Rockets swelled from 11 to 21 points, was part of a 35-point effort by Curry in Golden State’s eventual 126-85 victory that made an emphatic statement on the heels of Golden State having lost badly in Game 2. Golden State, which effectively stole home court advantage in the series with a Game 1 win in Houston, now has a 2-1 lead in the series, with two of the next three games coming at home.
“It’s what I expected to do,” Curry said in an on-court interview with TNT’s David Aldridge. “My approach to every game is you don’t get too high on the highs and you don’t get too low on the lows.”
He added, “I was obviously happy to hit some shots tonight — eventually.”
Curry’s big night, which included hitting 11 of his last 13 shots, was complemented with 25 points by Kevin Durant and a huge effort on both ends of the court by Draymond Green who finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 6 assists.
Curry, who missed more than a month with a sprained ligament in his left knee, came back in Game 2 of Golden State’s Western Conference semifinal series against New Orleans and performed well against the Pelicans. But in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, there was clearly something wrong. The best 3-point shooter in N.B.A. history was a combined 2 for 13 from 3-point range (which extended to 3 for 20 if you include the first half of Game 3) and was unable to wield his usual influence and space out the floor for his teammates. On top of that, Houston clearly had developed an offensive game plan of attacking him as Golden State’s worst defender.
It was more of the same through the first half, but early in the third quarter he got rolling with a few 2-pointers before he finally launched one of his signature 30-footers with 5 minutes 7 seconds left in the period. The crowd at Oracle Arena was whipped into a frenzy and he clearly played off it, approaching plays with far more tenacity than had been present at any point since his knee injury.
Curry’s playing off the crowd in Oakland is one of the reasons that they are often credited with having such an extreme home court advantage, but Houston’s Coach Mike D’Antoni splashed some water on that thinking in his pregame news conference.
“Somebody asked me, Oracle’s tough to play, isn’t it?” D’Antoni said. “Yeah, because the Warriors play here. Yeah, it’s going to be hard. It would be hard on any court.”
But even the pragmatic D’Antoni acknowledged that the Warriors seem adept at feeding off the energy of their crowd.
“There is a certain energy that their fans will give them, and moments that they hit two or three 3s,” he said, “you can get a buzz going that helps the home team. You just have to try to keep the crowd out as much as you can.”