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2018 NBA Playoffs

The Steph Curry of old resurfaces against Rockets

Warriors guard scores 18 of his 35 points in third quarter, and gets caught up in the moment

OAKLAND, Calif. — “This is my f—ing house!”

Stephen Curry cursed in celebration after ending his frustration. Stunned NBA fans worldwide read his lips, and fans at Oracle Arena saw the replay on the JumboTron. The devout Christian got caught up in the emotion of the moment but was apologetic after his Golden State Warriors’ 126-85 blowout win against the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.

“If they ever thought I was perfect, then they got the wrong message to begin with,” said Curry, the favorite active athlete among kids 12-17, according to a 2017 ESPN Sports Poll. “I try to do the right things all the time. I have an awareness of who I represent on the court. In that moment, I fell a little short. I have to try to do better next time.”

Likely playing a role in Curry’s expletive outburst were his recent struggles on the court and his struggles in recent months with injuries.

A two-time NBA MVP. A five-time NBA All-Star. The most intimidating 3-point shooter the game has ever seen. Even with that résumé, Curry became an NBA mortal after missing the final 10 regular-season games and six playoff games with a left MCL sprain.

Curry played four games of the second-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 24.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and two steals in 37.5 minutes per game while shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range. But the swagger, signature shimmy and scoring explosion after several deep 3-pointers that light up Oracle Arena and his foes had not surfaced for a while. Curry was good, but not renowned “Chef Curry” great.

Making matters worse for Curry was that the top-seeded Houston Rockets arrived at the West finals with a plan to stop him from getting open perimeter shots and challenge him defensively. During the first two games, Curry averaged a non-superstarlike 17.5 points and missed 11 of 13 3-pointers. Houston also picked on the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder by making him the primary defender on 43 plays in the half court during the first two games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was 14 more plays than any other Warriors player.

Curry told The Undefeated he was fine after Game 2 when asked about his health and his offensive struggles.

Curry’s offense appeared to regress further in the first half of Game 3, as he missed eight of 11 field-goal attempts and six of seven 3-point attempts. Even so, the Warriors held a 54-43 halftime lead thanks to stellar defense and the stellar offensive play of Kevin Durant. Curry was shooting just 40 percent from the field and missed 17 of 20 3-pointers during the first 10 quarters of the series, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“That is what makes, I think, a great player and person in general,” Curry told the media after Game 3. “Just being able to deal with failure, frustration, whatever it is, not living up to your own expectations. Not letting yourself get defeated. There are plenty of opportunities to do that when there are 800 cameras in your face and questions about, ‘Why are you not shooting this? Why did you play so bad in Game 2?’ Whatever it is.

“You’ve got to block that out and really be your own worst critic and your own biggest fan, like I said. It’s hard to do at times because everybody’s human. But consistently that’s gotten me through some tough times and really keeps my perspective right when games go well too, because it can change quick.”

It sure changed quick for Curry as he got hot in the third quarter.

One thing that has been working for Curry against the Rockets is layups. He was fouled for a 3-point play on a finger roll 13 seconds into the third quarter. Then a poor Curry pass turned into a Chris Paul steal and a James Harden lay-in to trim Houston’s deficit to 66-53 with 6:13 left in the third quarter. Warriors fans groaned, and concerned head coach Steve Kerr called a timeout.

After the timeout, it was as if Curry somehow got his old powers back, as he scored 12 points during a 14-3 Warriors run to take an 80-56 lead. After two layups, Curry nailed one of his trademark 30-foot 3-pointers and did his Mark Jackson shimmy dance afterward. After making another 3-pointer with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter to put Houston behind 78-56, Curry turned to his beloved crowd and screamed, “This is my f—ing house!” while the ball was still in play and everyone else was running back down the floor.

“I blacked out. I blacked out,” an embarrassed Curry said to the media afterward.

Curry scored 18 points in the third quarter, including two 3-pointers and five shots from inside the restricted area. The Rockets didn’t respond, as they were pummeled 38-18 in the fourth quarter and were called “soft” by their head coach, Mike D’Antoni. Houston’s 41-point loss was the worst playoff defeat in franchise history.

What impressed Warriors forward Draymond Green the most about Curry’s performance was the way he attacked the rim. Curry is averaging 10 drives per game in this series and had nine on Sunday night, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also had 32 blow-bys, according to Second Spectrum.

“The shocking part about it was he only hit two 3s [in the third quarter],” Green said. “Usually when he gets it going like that it’s 4-for-4, 5-for-5, 6-for-6 for the quarter from 3. He only had two 3s, which further goes along with the fact that he attacked the basket, which was key.”

Curry scored a 2018 NBA playoff-high and game-high 35 points and was impressive defensively too. He did not commit a shooting foul as a primary defender after being matched up against Rockets guard James Harden, who has led the NBA in made free throws in each of the past four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A hustling Curry also recovered a game-high six 50-50 balls.

While Curry appears to be his old scoring self again, Rockets center Clint Capela wasn’t in awe.

“I don’t think there was a difference,” Capela told The Undefeated. “During the three games [this series], he just kept playing. Tonight, he just had open looks at the 3 and just shot it. But the first two games, he didn’t have open looks from 3. Tonight, he just made them.

“If I’m close to him when he’s shooting 3s, he’s not going to make 3s. Whenever he got a little separation, that is why he made 3s. Not really [worried].”

Green is an NBA All-Star known for his trash talk and outspokenness that has gotten him in trouble with the referees and drawn the ire of opposing players and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. Green won’t mind an occasional curse from his Christian teammate if it means he will keep playing like he did on this night.

“I need that. I love that,” Green said of Curry. “It shows a different side of him. That’s good.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.