Sunday May 24th, 2015

HOUSTON—Stephen Curry might as well have been swinging an ax into a stump, or punching a heavy bag, or stomping on an ant, or ripping up a book one page at a time, or taking a power drill to a wedding cake.

After months of MVP debate and two quality head-to-head duels in the Bay Area, Game 3 was an utter rampage. There’s no other way to put it. Curry led the Warriors to a smashing 115–80 road victory on Saturday, a blowout so convincing that James Harden never even stepped foot on the court in the fourth quarter. Instead, Rockets coach Kevin McHale waved the white flag early, hoping that his Warriors counterpart Steve Kerr would finally call off the dogs.

This was a ruthless destruction of everything that Houston held most dear: its identity as a team that thrives with its back against the wall, Harden’s position as Curry’s supposed MVP equal, and the Rockets’ chances of making this a series.

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Curry’s shooting performance cleared out much of the stadium early, caused McHale to shake his head throughout his postgame press conference, and rendered Dwight Howard somber and nearly speechless.

“He makes you pay,” McHale said. “We can’t quit on each other,” Howard whispered.

Stephen Curry carries still-evolving Warriors in Game 3 rout of Rockets

The final damage went down in the box score as 40 points on 12-for-19 shooting, 7-for-9 three-point shooting, and 9-for-10 from the line, plus seven assists and five rebounds to boot. His black-and-white domination of Harden—who finished with 17 points, four assists and three rebounds—really came through in green and red: Curry’s shot chart was almost entirely green, while Harden’s sandpaper-rough 3-for-16 shooting night produced an all-red chart that perfectly matched the empty Toyota Center seats that piled up down the stretch.

Scene after scene after scene, Curry drove the stake deeper and deeper and deeper, and he delighted in it. Houston has struggled to stick with Curry all series long, and Game 3 saw a shopping spree. Curry slid to the right angle for wide-open three. Curry backed up way behind a screen for a wide-open three. Curry slid to the left corner for a wide-open three. Curry corralled an offensive rebound in the left corner for an open three. Curry raced to the right angle in transition for a WIDE-open three.  Curry slid to the left corner, again, for an open three. Curry stopped on a dime at the left angle for a wide-open three.

“Steph was Steph,” Kerr said. “He’s the MVP. … I think [what sets him apart] is the ball-handling that leads to the shot. … I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with the] ability to create space and then pull up from six or seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

The incessant shooting, which helped Golden State build a 25-point first half lead, put Houston in a position where one of its famed comeback finally seemed impossible. “I don’t know why [we lacked energy],” Pablo Prigioni said. “Maybe it’s more psychological, but today we couldn’t compete against them.”

The Rockets were the stump, or the ant, or the wedding cake.

[daily_cut.NBA]​​In recent months, Harden publicly vouched for himself as MVP, Rockets GM Daryl Morey aggressively stated Harden's case on social media, and Houston fans wore fake beards and chef hats by the dozens to show their support. But on the night Houston most needed him to play hero, Harden was missing in action. His contested jumpers rattled out, Golden State limited his transition opportunities by protecting the ball, he never found his outside shot, and a number of his drives ended up with the ball falling harmlessly out of bounds.

Houston’s underdog chances in this series clearly rested on Harden’s ability to conjure up “A” efforts on a nightly basis. Once that didn’t transpire, the Rockets’ mental lapses, defensive miscues, and shooting struggles snowballed into an ugly night. All that was left was the final buzzer, and McHale didn’t wait that long, pulling Howard with nearly five minutes left and conceding the game. These Warriors aren’t the Clippers.

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The most memorable sequence from a forgettable, one-sided affair came in the third quarter, when Curry buried another of his endless stream of threes from the left corner. He began to run back on defense, stopped briefly, and turned to point a finger at a fan in the second row.

“The guy said a four-letter word that I can’t repeat,” Curry explained later. “I turned around and kind of just said: ‘Sit down.’”  

It was Curry’s defense that helped drop Harden to his knees in frustration at the end of Game 2, and Harden never got back to his feet in Game 3. Indeed, Harden spent the final 12 minutes exactly like that heckler: helpless to stop Curry’s onslaught, and sitting down.

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