Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Sunday: Stephen Curry is back, Houston’s defense is in trouble


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1) Stephen Curry is back, Houston better find an improved defense. Fast. In the just 20 minutes Stephen Curry has played in this series, the Warriors have had an offensive rating of 119 points per 100 possessions, and they outscored the Rockets by 17.9 points per 100. It’s a small sample size, but it follows what Curry did in the two games he played against them in the regular season when he averaged 30 points a game with a 70 percent true shooting percentage. Like a lot of teams, the Rockets have no real answer for defending Curry, and his gravity drawing defenders opens up the floor for the rest of the Warriors players.

The Rockets won Game 3 in Houston on a James Harden shot with 2.7 seconds left, but this game will be very different. Expect a sharper Golden State defense, expect a better game from Draymond Green who was frustrated with his turnovers in the last contest, and expect a much more potent Warriors offense. Houston will be physical with Curry using Patrick Beverley, James Harden will get his points and attack, the Houston crowd will be loud and energized after Game 3. But if the Rockets do not find a much better defense quickly, this series will be over in five.

2) San Antonio will close out their series, can Cleveland do the same? Today will be the final game of the Memphis Grizzlies season. Credit them for playing all out just to make the playoffs despite a barrage of injuries, coach Dave Joerger has been brilliant, Matt Barnes and Tony Allen have epitomized “grit and grind,” but they are vastly overmatched, and this will be their final game.

The more interesting question is if Cleveland can close out a feisty Detroit Pistons team Sunday. You know Andre Drummond is going to get his (except in the fourth quarter, when he is forced to the bench by hack-a-Drummond), but the Pistons have had a balanced attack with Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris all playing well. It took a lot of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving for Cleveland to win Game 3 on the road, but the Pistons are not going to roll over in Game 4.

Cleveland has outscored Detroit by 34 in the second half through three games; that is where they have won. By going more with Kevin Love at center and keeping Drummond on the bench, Cleveland has found ways in the second half; the Pistons need to change that around if they plan to play another day. Cleveland’s other advantage? LeBron tends to step it up in close out games.

3) Can Atlanta get back to shutting down Isaiah Thomas and Boston’s offense? Boston shot better at home in Game 3, but not great — 8-of-19 from the midrange, 11-of-32 from three. It was enough. The threat of Jonas Jerebko (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Evan Turner (16 points) created space that was missing with Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk out injured. That opened the door for Isaiah Thomas to go off for 42. Expect the Hawks and their ruthless defense to get back to packing the paint, taking away Thomas’ driving lanes and living with the Celtics’ shooters beating them. The question becomes can the Celtics shooters make them pay? Can Boston’s defense hold the Hawks front line stars in check again and even the series? Or, maybe the better question for the Hawks offense: Can they start to hit open jumpers? It’s become a thing with this team.

If you’re going to watch one game today, make it this one. This is the best playoff series going — evenly matched teams that are chippy with one another. The Boston crowd is raucous. The Celtics have a chance to even the series and make this a best-of-three, but they will need a better game from guys not named Thomas to make that happen, another scorer needs to step up.