OAKLAND, Calif. — If you’re new to the Golden State Warriors and find yourself in the hallway leading to the court at Oracle Arena about 90 minutes before game time, the chance of getting run over by two-time MVP Stephen Curry as he sprints out for his pregame shooting drills is actually quite high.
This time of year, as the crowds swell and the hallways inside the NBA’s oldest arena fill up, more than a few have suggested that Curry think about changing that part of his pregame routine, for safety’s sake.
Sensible as that may be, no one who knows Curry or the Warriors would even bother. Curry doesn’t change for anyone. As spontaneous and improvisational as he can be on the court, Curry is, at heart, a creature of habit and routine.
In good times and bad ones — like the first two games of these Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets when Curry’s shot was so painfully off, you wondered if something was physically wrong with him — he finds confidence in the routines and habits he has honed over the past three decades.
“It’s real, true confidence,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told ESPN. “I think a lot of guys would be sitting there for three days and get ornery with you guys [asking about his poor shooting]. But he’s not. He handles it so well.”
Which is how a player can go from being as cold and ineffective as Curry was in the first two games of this series to what happened Sunday night, when he erupted for 18 of his game-high 35 points in the third quarter of Golden State’s 126-85 blowout win over the Rockets at Oracle Arena to give the Warriors a 2-1 series lead.
“I always say you never lose confidence,” Curry said. “A lot of it was just talking to myself, almost like you’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes.”
Of course, his shooting woes in the first two games of the series (he was just 2-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc) bothered him.
“Everybody’s human,” Curry conceded. “But consistently, that’s what’s gotten me through some tough times and really keeps my perspective right when games go well too, because it can change quick.”
Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser runs Curry through his shooting drills and routines at every practice and before every game. On Friday, Fraser thought he noticed something starting to turn.
“We were playing a shooting game and he shot it really well,” Fraser said. “So I said to him, ‘Looks like you’re back.’
“He smiled and said, ‘I was never gone.'”
That’s Curry. Confident. Unflappable. Centered.
When Kerr points to Curry’s leadership as being key to Golden State’s success in the same way Tim Duncan was for the San Antonio Spurs during their dynasty, this is what he means.
“This guy is a two-time MVP, and he bounces back from bad games as well as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Kerr said. “So it didn’t surprise me.”
This time, Curry found his way back by driving to the basket and around defenders who were crowding him on the perimeter to contest his outside shots.
According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Curry hit 8 of 9 shots in the restricted area in Game 3, with the 16 points there being his most in a playoff game and tied for the most in any game.
Most of that damage came in the pivotal third quarter, when the Warriors ran their 11-point halftime lead into a 28-point cushion that sent the crowd at Oracle into a frenzy and evoked a shimmy and uncharacteristic swear-jar moment from Curry — “This is my f—ing house!” — captured on the big screen for all to see.
Was that the release of the frustration of the past two games and another rough first half that saw Curry miss six of his seven 3-pointers? Or just a spontaneous show of joy when the crowd roared as the Warriors reclaimed control of the series?
“I blacked out,” Curry said afterward, attempting to change the subject quickly. “I blacked out.”
Steve Kerr praises Steph Curry’s physical and mental toughness after Game 3.
Curry might want to forget the profane public moment, but it sat well with the Warriors, who had been forced out of their offensive comfort zone by the Rockets’ switch-everything defense in the first two games.
In Games 1 and 2, Golden State relied way too much on the one-on-one brilliance of Kevin Durant, running 15 isolation plays for him in each of the first two games. On Sunday night, Golden State went back to the pick-and-roll between Curry and Draymond Green, a staple of its egalitarian offense. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Golden State ran the Curry-Green pick-and-roll 13 times in Game 3, after going to it just 11 times in the first two games.
The Warriors also got back to their defensive principles — switch everything, contest shots, don’t foul — to hold the Rockets to their lowest scoring effort of the playoffs.
To wit, the Warriors committed just a single shooting foul on James Harden‘s 17 drives on Sunday night, and the Rockets attempted only one free throw in the entire second half of Game 3 despite attempting 38 field goals.
“We had a great mindset going into the game,” Warriors assistant Ron Adams said. “We played with force and focus. When you play Houston, we have our schemes going into it, but you really have to be eclectic and spontaneous because of how they play and how they drive and find their 3-point shooters. It goes back to focus. We made so many good reads. Draymond talked behind the defense well. It was a really good evening defensively.”
Curry’s offensive resurgence will steal the headlines from this game, but Kerr said Green’s defensive effort was especially memorable.
“Oh my gosh, Draymond,” Kerr said. “There is nobody like him, honestly. His ability to impact the game in so many ways, defensively, getting out on Harden and [Chris] Paul and switching, rebounding, staying on [Clint] Capela‘s legs. Draymond is just a tremendous defender. I thought his performance tonight was just unreal.”
Green finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, he was the Warriors’ primary defender on 17 plays, the most of any player.
“I’m the last line of defense the majority of the time, and I’ve always been taught, when you’re the last line of defense, you’re the eyes. You see for everybody,” Green told ESPN.
“I think we definitely forced them to do some things they didn’t want to do. We got some great contests on a lot of their shots. We made them take some tough shots. When you do that, you live with the results. If they’re making those tough shots, which they’re more than capable of, you live with it.”