BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Responding emphatically to the 22 point thumping they absorbed in Game 2 four days ago, the Warriors bounced back Sunday night with an even bigger beat down, dismantling the Rockets 126-85 to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Steph Curry, who appeared at times to be slow in recovering from his knee injury during the first two games of the series, exploded for 18 points on 7-7 shooting in the third quarter on the way to a game high 35 points. The 41 point margin of victory sets a new all-time Warriors franchise playoff record, and it also set a record for the largest playoff loss in Rockets franchise history. Houston’s previous largest loss this season had been by 18 points.
Playing like a team intent on going to the NBA finals for a fourth consecutive season, the Warriors win also helped establish a new NBA record record with their 16th consecutive home playoff win, breaking the record of the 1990-1991 Jordan-Pippen led Chicago Bulls.
The Rockets, coming off an NBA best 65-17 record in the regular season, never led by more than four points, but trailed only 48-41 with two minutes remaining in the first half before entering the locker room down 54-43.
But it was all downhill from there for Houston as Golden State went on a 10-0 run to start the second half and extend their lead to 64-43. The Rockets trio of P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza which combined for 68 points on Wednesday only scored 22 in Game 3.
The game really got out of hand in the fourth quarter as the Warriors lead swelled to 107-78 with five minutes remaining, at which point a Golden State timeout signaled the start of garbage time as both teams made mass substitutions. All five Warriors starters scored in double digits. Kevin Durant added 25 while Klay Thompson tallied 13, enough to move him past Rick Barry to become second on the Warriors all-time playoff scoring list. Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green each put in 10 points, and the energized Green also produced a game high 17 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Houston’s Big Two, James Harden and Chris Paul, started the game 3-14 with Paul not getting his first basket until just over two minutes remained in the first half. That basket came on a goaltending call against Iguodala and neither star was ever able to really get off against the motivated Warriors tough defense. Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer during the regular season with 30.4 points per game settled for 20 points on 7-16 shooting. Paul and Clint Cappella each tallied 13 with Paul adding 10 boards.
After the game, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t hesitate to call his teams performance soft. “We got down early and didn’t do the little things to get us back in there, and then we’d have found some more energy. They gave us a haymaker and we went down.”
For his part, Curry credited the Warriors solid defense. “I think we played smarter and harder than Game 2. Game 1 we were pretty solid. James [Harden] got off a little bit, made a lot of tough shots. He had 40. Game 2 we were just a step slow mentally and physically, allowing paint touches and drive and kicks and all that. They got their three-point game going. Tonight we played a lot better one-on-one defense, and that helped us kind of get a lot of momentum.”
Golden State coach Steve Kerr was asked if he was getting nervous in the first half when Curry was missing most off his shots. “Not really. We’ve seen this so many times with Steph. All it takes is one. I thought he was pressing a little bit early, but I was never concerned. This guy’s a two-time MVP, and he bounces back from bad games as well as anybody I’ve ever seen, so it didn’t surprise me. Steph is underrated for the toughness factor. But you don’t become a two-time MVP just by shooting a bunch of threes. He’s got unbelievable stamina.”
Kerr also credited the defense that out rebounded the Rockets 49-41 while adding 11 steals and three blocked shots. “Tonight was just all about defense and taking care of the ball (the Warriors only had 8 turnovers in the game). That’s it. When we defend like that and we take care of it, then we’re not giving anything easy and we’re making them earn every point. That’s what this is all about. If we can defend at that level and protect the ball, we’re generally going to be in good shape.”
With the series being contested every other night the rest of the way, the two teams will return to the Oracle floor Tuesday night at 6PM.