Sunday May 24th, 2015

HOUSTON—So ridiculous are the Warriors that they could obliterate a quality opponent to take a 3-0 lead in the conference finals without showing anything new. Golden State is this good. There is no mirage in the splash of Stephen Curry’s three-pointers. There is no fool’s gold in the Warriors’ refined defense. A historically dominant regular season team simply played up to its capability in these playoffs, erasing the Pelicans, the Grizzlies, and now the Rockets who are left functionally eliminated with a 115–80 loss on the Toyota Center floor.

This is what the Warriors do. They get a grip on a series and an opponent after consecutive games and from that grip comes a suffocating pressure. The first to go are the supporting options. Golden State stayed home on three-point shooters from the first game of this series against Houston, effectively forcing James Harden to create for himself or some teammate in his immediate vicinity. Harden responded in Games 1 and 2 by hitting shot after shot over the contest of Klay Thompson, defiant to his shots' degree of difficulty.

Rather than overhaul their coverage of Harden or compromise their steadfast commitment to guarding the three-point line, the Warriors preserved the same basic principles and shuffled the defenders who employed them.

• MORE NBA: Curry as a screen-setter | Curry's SI cover story | Highlights

"You know, with any great player, you just have to give them different looks," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "You can't feed them the same thing over and over again. So we just tried to mix it up a little bit more tonight. Harrison [Barnes] guarded him well, started on him, Klay, Andre [Iguodala], Shaun Livingston had a crack at him, and we did some switching and that kind of stuff like we always do. But I think that's the strength of our team is our versatility defensively and our ability to try different things because we have so many like-sized players who are capable of guarding multiple positions."

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As Game 3 showed, Rockets need a better Harden against Warriors, Curry

Harden went 3 of 16 from the field and was pushed away from the pick-and-roll game for the better part of the first half. Thompson doesn't have to be a single, isolated answer to Harden. He only needs to be part of a compound solution—the formulation of which is a Warriors specialty. Golden State's flexible roster allows the team to keep within itself while making subtle adjustments. On Saturday, those adjustments helped to gum up the works of a prolific scorer and a Rockets offense built to rely on him.

Golden State's help defenders pre-rotated to give punctual help on any Harden drive. All that was surrendered was a difficult, needlepoint passing angle to the likes of Josh Smith or Terrence Jones who are capable players, to be sure, but lack the kind of quick-hitting in-between game that could make the Warriors pay for straying a few steps in Harden's direction. Neither was able to drum up the consistent, compensatory scoring the Rockets needed—especially with Curry scorching from the perimeter as only he can.

MORE NBA: Curry passes Miller, sets record for threes in a postseason

Still, this is what Curry does. He runs his opponents ragged by working off of screens, darting into open space, and firing up shots that others wouldn't even consider. Houston has managed to lose track of him at an embarrassing rate throughout this series and Game 3 was no exception. Too many of Curry's shots came with his designated defender lost on a screen or a cut away, their moment of recognition coming far too late to in any way to influence Curry's shot. He finished with an ungodly 40 points on 19 shots while making seven of his nine three-point attempts. It all seemed somehow casual.

"Steph was Steph," Kerr said.

In his time off from being the game's most explosive scorer, Curry orchestrated his team's thorough probing of the Rockets' defense. He was able to beat his own man (largely Jason Terry or Pablo Prigioni during minutes of any import) consistently enough to force a rotation. He would then drag out that hapless, rotated defender through to the opposite side of the floor or down the baseline, exploring any options that came along the way.

[daily_cut.NBA]This is what the Warriors do. They force the defense's play and then boom in the breakdown. If it wasn't Curry's own ball handling that did the trick, perhaps it was an intentionally triggered switch out of the pick-and-roll that would create another angle of attack. Maybe it was a slick series of dribble hand-offs straight from the Warriors playbook. It could even be something as simple as an expertly timed cut—the kind Golden State puts to brutal, consistent use as all eyes are glued to the likes of Curry and Thompson.

By no means was this the Warriors' best offensive game. Yet through Curry, Draymond Green (17 points, 13 rebounds, five assists), Thompson (17 points, five assists), and surprise bursts from Andrew Bogut (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Festus Ezeli (10 points, five rebounds), they took on an unbeatable air. Houston had essentially been dispatched by halftime.

• MORE NBA: Schedule | SI's playoff hub | Preview | Game 1 | Game 2

This is what the Warriors do. They break you with championship certainty while leaving painful reminders that they could still get even better.

"It sounds arrogant and cocky, but we truly believe that," Bogut said. "We didn’t play that well the first two games [of the series]. So you knew something was brewing in our locker room. We had that focus today. We came out and we gave them our best shot, and we blew ‘em apart."

Bogut, Iguodala, and Golden State assistant Ron Adams all noted that this is a team that's still learning, still growing, still in the process of becoming. Whatever team emerges from the East must shudder to think: If this win was the work of a team still slowly evolving, what terrors might the fully actualized Warriors be capable of?

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