For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about James Harden this and Dwight Howard that, the one question the Golden State Warriors were not asked before Game 3 of the Western Conference Final was this:
“So what do the Rockets do when Stephen Curry and the rest of the rotation sucks the oxygen out of an entire arena in half an hour?”
That, boys, girls and undecideds, is bad reporting. Damned myopic media.
Not that we should have seen it coming based on Game 1 or 2, or even most of the 13 playoffs games the Warriors have played. But eventually . . . well, you know.
After struggling mightily to close out Games 1 and 2 while still taking a 2-0 lead to Texas, the Warriors took a dry-cleaning bag to the Rockets’ chances in Game 3 Saturday evening and won by the second-widest margin of the postseason, in this case an absurd 115-80, nearly the same margin as their past four wins combined. The widest was Chicago’s 120-66 win to close out Milwaukee in the first round of the Eastern Conference quarters, but that game felt no more convincing than this one.
Curry enraged and then gutted the Toyota Center crowd with a 40-point night (12 of 19, 7-of-9 from three, seven assists and five rebounds, each of which made the crowd want to secede from the union neighborhood by neighborhood), while their own heroes shot an appalling 33.7 percent from the field, a number they clung to throughout the evening as they avoided making any telling runs from anthem to drive-home-safely.
In other words, the Warriors came to Houston four hours late and kicked metric tons of ass while declining the opportunity to take any names. They don’t really need to know any more names, unless they are LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If there was a signature moment in this gray blur of a match, it was in the second quarter when Curry slipped inside Howard, pinned his arm down with his own left hand while grabbing the rebound with his free hand, and getting fouled by Howard, to the enormous exasperation of all people on the wrong side of this series.
"It was just right place, right time," Curry fibbed. "I think I kind of caught him by surprise. I don't think he was expecting me to come from where I did and get in front of him."
He didn't mention hooking Howard's arm, but he didn't have to. It was all part of the grander scheme.
The first half was so preposterous that one Warrior official laughed at halftime as he said, “If we could only make a three.” Given that they had held the Rockets to 37 first half points and Harden to a sub-dismal 1-for-8 shooting, this complaint (they were 4-of-15 at the half, 10-of-25 for the game) was the equivalent of complaining that he’d hit the lottery and was being paid in two installments twenty minutes apart rather than all at once.
Then again, it is the way of the business that seeking out a negative to avoid drowning the team in superlatives is the standard.
“Our first half,” head coach Steve Kerr said almost in bewilderment as he surveyed the wreckage of a 62-37 lead. “The box score, we’re 4 for 15 from three, Harrison’s 0-for-6, Klay’s 4 for 13, and if you look at that, it doesn’t look like we played that well at all. But we commit one turnover, and that’s an illegal screen by Harrison, so we didn’t have to defend their transitions, and we defended (James) Harden so well.
“Of course, being that we’re us, we turned the ball over 13 times in the second half, but that first half was the best lesson this team could have learned.”
The work on Harden, who finished with 17 points but missed 13 of his 16 shots was done in tandem, between Thompson, Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Though Howard got his few pieces of flesh (14 and 14 in a very ancillary role), he couldn’t make up for all the things Harden couldn’t do, and none of the other Rockets made any noticeable impact at all, except contribute 38 of the 55 misses. The Warriors’ march to choke-hold control did not come in bursts, either, but in a slow, steady embrace like a boa constrictor’s Thanksgiving. There would be plenty to eat, so there was no real hurry to do so.
Oh, there are still crises to manufacture. Thompson still can’t make a shot (16 for 47 in the series), and Barnes actually didn’t make a shot (0-for-9). On the other hand, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli kept Howard within arm’s distance, and Draymond Green just free-ranged through the evening and even had the extra time to get T’d up by crew chief Scott Foster, whose personal box score now includes a 1-10 record for home teams in the postseason.
Foster, though, was no issue most of the night, and neither was anyone else. There were no coaching issues to argue, no over-analysis to engorge the chattering class. The Warriors have been, are, and are almost sure to remain demonstrably better in nearly every area, and Harden’s best days in this series are behind him, you may expand the phrase to read “in exactly every area.”
As it stands, no NBA team has ever done a Shark, so history veritably shrieks that this series is quite over and done. Only three teams have extended an 0-3 start to seven games (1951 Knicks, 1994 Nuggets and 2003 Trail Blazers), and only nine have managed even to take it to six (the aforementioned three, plus the ’47 and ’49 Washington Capitals, the ’62 Pistons, the ’96 Sonics, 2000 76ers and ’07 Bulls).
And after a game like Saturday’s, even without knowing the history, the here and now is plainly too daunting for Houston to handle. They finally reverted to the team that didn’t enough weaponry to stay with Golden State during the regular season, and Game 4 looms with the finality of a truck full of concrete pianos falling through a stage.
If only they could hit their threes and keep the ball, we could take them seriously as a title contender.