HOUSTON – The Warriors have good reason to like where they stand three games into the Western Conference semifinals, and not only because they have 2-1 series lead on the Houston Rockets.
It’s that they’ve won two of three without Steph Curry or Klay Thompson approaching anything near their usual scoring efficiency.
“We all like where we’re at,” Draymond Green said late Saturday night.
Though Kevin Durant has had several spectacular sequences – he went thermonuclear after halftime in Game 3 – the Warriors offense we’ve come to know has turned inside out. Andre Iguodala and Green, defensive aces considered “non-shooters,” have been more reliable scorers than the “Splash Brothers.”
Some of this can be attributed to the physicality of the Rockets. Some of it can be blamed on Curry toughing his way through a dislocated finger on his left hand. Some of it is a product of Thompson’s historical streakiness.
Can the Warriors win the series with this trend? Probably. But they’d have to defend like a pack of hungry wolves, stay at least even on the glass, minimize live-ball turnovers, avoid foul trouble among the starters and get fantastic offense from Durant.
That’s a lot to ask, though, given the intensity and borderline animosity between the two teams. The Warriors’ best hope is that Curry and Thompson start providing reminders of who they are – as Durant did two games into their first-round NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Curry shot 7-of-23, including 2-of-9 from deep, in Game 3. He’s 18-of-51 (35.3 percent) and 8-of-32 (25.0) in the series. The Warriors need him to at least resemble the dude who shot 50 percent from the field and beyond the arc against L.A. in the first round.
“I know he don't make too much of it,” Green said Sunday. “As a competitor, I know he's pissed with himself, and I think that will bode well for us. Probably it's going to lead to some aggressiveness, and we like when he's aggressive. I think it'll be fine.”
Curry’s biggest mistake in Game 3 wasn’t that he missed 16 shots. It was that he failed to productively coexist with Durant in the fourth quarter and overtime. Even as Durant was sizzling, Curry was trying to find his own rhythm. Curry is normally willing to feed the hot hand; Curry’s assist to a hot Thompson in November allowed Klay to break Steph’s record for 3-pointers in a game.
“He was really trying to get himself going early in the game, maybe took a couple quick ones, but I'm fine with that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Whatever it takes for Steph to get in a groove, that's what he's going to do. I thought he got really good shots, and the ones at the rim are ones that he normally makes.”
Normally, yes. But the Curry we’ve seen against Houston isn't the “normal” Curry.
The Warriors could better withstand Curry’s low efficiency if Thompson were filling the void. But he was 6-of-16 in Game 3, including 2-of-6 from deep. Through three games, he’s 19-of-47 (40.4 percent) and 7-of-20 (35.0) from 3-point range.
Thompson is playing fabulous defense, practically putting Chris Paul in a box, but his shot will be needed at some point in this series.
Meanwhile, Green and Iguodala are finding buckets at a far higher clip than usual. Green is averaging 16.0 points on 65.6 percent shooting, while Iguodala is at 15.3 points and an astonishing 72 percent, including 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) shooting from beyond the arc.
No doubt one of the factors in the production of Green and Iguodala is the Rockets’ preoccupation with Curry and Thompson. It’s a smart plan by Houston, taking away the most dangerous threats and putting additional burden on the secondary scorers.
How long can the Warriors tolerate this? They’re built around a formula, with the Durant-Curry-Thompson trio providing roughly 60 percent of their scoring.
There is no hint of worry from the Warriors. They’ve experienced Curry’s greatness and can’t imagine he won’t find his way to a few more buckets.
“He's just really, really competitive and he gets locked in and he gets a little bit angry, and he come out with a lot of focus and a lot of fight,” Kerr said. “So that's what we're expecting tomorrow.”
If Curry gets it going, don’t be surprised if Thompson follows. If that’s the case, this series will belong to the Warriors in as few as five games.