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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry scores 35 as Golden State Warriors take 2-1 series lead

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket against the Houston Rockets during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on May 20, 2018. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — After hitting his second of two three-pointers of the third quarter Stephen Curry looked across the court and smirked. He shimmied. Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni looked like he had swallowed a lemon — rind and all.

“He’s good, and sooner or later, he’s going to erupt,” D’Antoni said. “I thought we let him get going a couple of times.”

After having the two worst three-point shooting performances of his playoff career back-to-back had many questioning his health, Curry ripped off a 7-for-7, 18-point third quarter and scored a game-high 35 points in Sunday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, powering a 126-85 win over D’Antoni’s Rockets to take a 2-1 series lead.

“For four days, everybody’s been talking about him,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “What he did tonight didn’t surprise any of us because that’s just who he is. He’s got unbelievable character, great talent and it always rises when it needs to.”

Curry — who has only been back for seven games after missing a month with a sprained MCL — had started Sunday’s game 3-for-11 from the field, and 1-for-7 from three. In the first 10 quarters of the series against Houston, he’d gone 3-for-20 from beyond the arc.

For the first 24 minutes of Game 3, he was missing wide-open looks –five, by his count — even without the defensive burden of defending James Harden sapping his leg strength.

After a 22-22 first quarter, the Warriors slowly began to pull away with a 9-0 run in the second. Then, with under six minutes to go before halftime, Curry drove past Chris Paul, kicked up his left leg under the basket and fired a pass to Andre Iguodala on the right block. After a fake, Iguodala found Curry curling into the corner for a three, waking up what had been a ho-hum late-arriving crowd at Oracle Arena. In three minutes, the Warriors went on a 12-5 run.

“His three is similar to some people’s dunk,” said forward Draymond Green. “You go to certain arenas and a guy gets a dunk and it’s just absurd. That’s how his three ball is.”

His first-quarter three notwithstanding, Curry, realizing his shot wasn’t falling early, turned to what he’d done over the last two games to get his points — lowering his shoulder and driving the lane. Ten of his 23 shots were finished at the rim, with five of those coming during the third quarter.

“Once he got to the basket, all of the sudden, the threes opened up and they started to fall,” said Green said. “But, he got to the basket first.They’ve been kind of pressuring him, trying to force him to drive the entire series. He took those lanes tonight, and they opened the floor for him.”

Curry finished 5-for-12 from beyond the arc, going 4-for-5 as the Warriors outscored the Rockets 72-42 in the second half.

After Curry’s first three makes in the third quarter — a driving finger-roll against Harden, a lay-up and a three — Klay Thompson got into the act, hitting a reverse lay-up and then holding out his left hand as though looking into a crystal ball. The Rockets called time out with 4:34 left in the period, down by 19.

“You don’t become a two-time MVP by just shooting threes,” Kerr said. “He’s got unbelievable toughness.”

As Curry drove past Trevor Ariza and finished over Luc Mbah a Moute with a left-handed finger role in the midst of a personal 12-0 run at the end of the third quarter, making the score 80-56, he pulled out his mouthpiece and screamed, “This is my f—–g house!”

Then, he shimmied again, this time with a snarl.

“I blacked out,” Curry said. “A lot of it was just talking to myself almost like, you’ve got to be your biggest fan sometimes.No matter what questions I was being asked over the first two games, or what the expectations was, I had the highest expectations for myself … I did my job tonight. I’ve got to do it again.”

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