Stephen Curry was every bit the MVP Saturday night, dropping 40 points on 19 shots — hitting shots then telling the fans courtside to sit down. He owned the game that put the Warriors up 3-0 and within a game of the Finals. That included out working and getting an offensive rebound in front of Dwight Howard, who has six inches and at least 50 pounds on Curry. It was about hustle and desire.
We should be fair to Howard here, he was the only Rocket who brought it in Game 3. He was 6-of-10 shooting, he was playing defense and blocking shots, he was encouraging teammates. It was just not near enough.
This was Curry’s night.
Stephen Curry drops 40, Warriors rout Rockets by 35 to take 3-0 series lead
For two games on the road, the Rockets battled and found little edges that kept games close. James Harden was forced into a lot of midrange shots and tough step-backs, but he was draining them. Dwight Howard was playing through a painful knee but he was putting up double-doubles. Role players stepped up beyond what could be expected from them consistently. The defense struggled with communication at times but looked fantastic at others.
Still, it felt like there would be one game in this series where all those edges wouldn’t go their way, where the Warriors would make the plays and get the bounces.
Plus, we had yet to see the best of Stephen Curry in this series — not just the ridiculous shooter, but the MVP who made a good team great.
It all happened Saturday night.
Golden State raced out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, got 40 points on just 19 shots from Stephen Curry, and the Warriors routed the Rockets, 115-80.
Golden State now has a commanding 3-0 series lead. I won’t get into how no team has ever come back from 3-0 down in an NBA playoff series, I’ll just say Game 4 is Monday night in Houston.
“The halftime box score was really telling…” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who noted that his team was up 25 despite shooting just 45 percent and hitting 4-of-15 from three, but they had just one turnover. “If we defend like crazy and don’t turn it over, and when we do that we’re tough to beat.”
That pretty much was Kerr’s dream half.
It was about the paint — Andrew Bogut had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the first quarter, and Golden State had 14 points in the paint in the first quarter, 32 in the half. It wasn’t just post ups, it was a matter of guys working hard off the ball and working for rebounds — Golden State grabbed 38 percent of its missed shots as offensive rebounds in the first half.
Maybe the most emblematic play of the first half: Stephen Curry snuck baseline and got inside rebounding position on Dwight Howard, got the offensive board, and was fouled going back up.
“For us, we have to score in the paint, we have to get offensive rebounds,” Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said. “They beat us up in those two areas.”
The other side of this was Houston just could not hit shots — the Rockets shot 29.3 percent in the first half and were 2-of-13 from three.
James Harden was 1-of-8 shooting in the first half, struggling with different looks and a variety of double teams. Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes got time on him, not just Klay Thompson. Golden State just started putting a second guy between Harden and the rim, and for Harden the midrange shots he made look effortless for a couple games would not go down.
Golden State was up by 25 — 62-37 — at the half. The Game felt over. It was
The Rockets came out early in the second half and made a run, got the lead down to 18 and the crowd into the game.
Then the Warriors came back and Curry shut them up — and would not give the fans a dap.
Synergy Sports tweeted out that Curry has made 91% of the 3-pointers he’s attempted from the left corner this postseason.
If you’re looking for a bright spot for the Rockets, Dwight Howard looked spry and energetic, with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He moved a lot better and played with some passion.
But this is a rough night in Houston — James Harden had 16 points on 3-of-16 shooting.
Houston has played well and valiantly this postseason, but the Warriors are simply better.
Lakers GM: If free agents don’t choose L.A. because of Kobe Bryant, ‘we don’t want them. You should go someplace else.’
The notion that free agents haven’t been willing to come to the Lakers in recent seasons because they don’t want to play with Kobe Bryant was brought up near the beginning of the season, but has been refuted by plenty of star players since.
The reality is that the only star-caliber players who have changed teams lately had very specific reasons for doing so. LeBron James was never going anywhere but back home to Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony stayed in New York to get the maximum amount of money allowed, and L.A.’s poor treatment and marginalization of Pau Gasol the past two years had him ready and willing to play somewhere (or perhaps anywhere) else.
Bryant has one year remaining on his contract, and though he’s expected to be healthy at the beginning of next season, no one can predict how long that will last. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said that Bryant hasn’t indicated that he will play beyond next season, but also mentioned that if Bryant’s presence is seen as a deterrent by free agents considering Los Angeles, then he doesn’t want them, and they should go play somewhere else.
Kupchak was also asked if it’s important for free agents to have clarity on Bryant’s future plans with the Lakers, particularly if they’re wary of joining the team while Bryant is still playing, a notion that has been reported in recent years.
“I think it is clear,” Kupchak said. “He’s on the last year of his deal. There have been no discussions [about playing beyond next season]. He hasn’t indicated that he wants to continue to play.
“But if there is a player out there like that, that won’t come here for that reason, then we don’t want them. Every great player is demanding and focused, and if you don’t want to play for a guy like him that’s driven to do nothing but win championships and work hard, then you shouldn’t be here. You should go someplace else.”
This has been the stance the Lakers have taken all along, and they are right to do so.
Dwight Howard famously clashed with Bryant, and took less money to play for the Rockets. He may not have wanted to play with Bryant any longer, but I believe he left more because he couldn’t take the pressure of being the face of the franchise in a major market like Los Angeles once Bryant was gone.
That’s one example of the type of player the Lakers can’t afford to sign to a long-term, max-money deal as they look to reshape the franchise into a contender in the future. There certainly are others. But the Lakers organization needs a strong-willed star to carry it into its next era of greatness, and someone who would bristle at Kobe’s level of commitment or competitiveness simply isn’t a match.
PBT Extra: Give Warriors defense some credit for stop of Harden on last play
It’s all about the last play when the Rockets had the chance to win, and Harden didn’t get a shot off. That’s what Jenna Corrado and I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.
First things first, I think Kevin McHale made the right move not calling for a timeout — Harden with a head of steam in transition has better odds of success than anything the team was going to draw up in a timeout, especially since it let the Warriors’ defense set.
Rather than just blame Harden, give some credit to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who got back on defense and cut off the easy path to the rim for Harden. He hesitated. While maybe he could have hit a streaking Terrence Jones, and while he certainly shouldn’t have passed to Dwight Howard, this was as much about good transition defense as anything else.
For two games James Harden has been brilliant, but that’s not what anybody is talking about
Flip on a sports television or radio and here is the James Harden they are talking about:
• With the game on the line couldn’t get the last shot off.
• That he didn’t realize he was passing to Dwight Howard at the top of the arc or he would have not made that dish.
• Then in frustration he tore down a curtain.
That’s all true.
But here’s the other thing people should be talking about:
• James Harden has been nothing short of brilliant for two games.
That last point will get lost in the noise.
Harden put up 38 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had nine assists Thursday, that coming off a 28-11-9 Game 1. As it has been all season, he has gotten inconsistent help from his Rocket teammates, in part due to injury, and yet for two games he has just put his head down, lifted his team up and carried them farther than anyone expected.
The last two games, on the road, he carried them within a bucket of wins — in Houston’s late 8-1 run he had six points and an alley-oop to Howard. Harden has had two wildly entertaining duels with Stephen Curry.
“Sometimes I want to crack open a beer and get a courtside seat,” is how Andrew Bogut described the top two MVP vote getters.
Harden entered these playoffs with critics and doubters. They questioned his ability to score against playoff defenses. They questioned his leadership.
Even down 2-0 to the Warriors, Harden has answered all those questions.
Some of those critics just didn’t like watching his style of play, using his physicality and putting the pressure on both defenses and officials. But the James Harden Thursday night was not just hunting for fouls, he was making brilliant plays with finesse — step back jumpers that nobody could stop, or lobs to Howard when defenders rotated over to stop him. He made smart decisions on when to drive, when to pass and when the best call was just him to go up with the shot. The Warriors have done a good job of forcing Harden to take midrange jumpers more this series — Houston tries to avoid that least-efficient shot — but he has hit 69.2 percent of those attempts through two games. Harden’s game is about finding the little edge, the little crack in the defense, then going right at it hard and exploiting it. It’s crafty and physical.
His game may lack the flair of Curry’s, but it doesn’t lack for skill.
But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Rather it is the last play, where Harden got the rebound off a Harrison Barnes missed layup with 8.5 seconds left and — with the blessing of his coach — pushed the ball up and tried to create a game winner in transition.
“I got the ball off the glass and I’m thinking ‘try to get an easy one,’” Harden said postgame. “They did a good job of having two guys on me so I couldn’t attack. When I looked up I saw a red jersey, it was Dwight (Howard) so I tried to throw it back to him. So I’m thinking with five seconds on the clock I tried to get the ball back but there still two guys right there. I watched the film, it was just a tough play.”
“I will take our best player coming downhill in a broken court any day of the week to win the game, That’s where James feasts,” said Rockets’ Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale said of deciding not to call a time out, adding that there were a couple Warriors out of position to get back and he liked the idea of Harden attacking a broken play.”
Statistically, that choice probably works more often than not, but trying it against the best defensive team in the NBA this past season is going to lessen those odds. It didn’t work out for Harden this time.