HOUSTON — Stephen Curry sat on the bench with his head in his hands, facing another injury that could derail Golden State’s playoff run.
The Warriors felt bad for the reigning MVP, but instead of sulking about their misfortune, they responded with a huge third quarter to pull away from the Houston Rockets and cruise to a 121-94 victory on Sunday that gave them a 3-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
“When you have a team that is as together as ours is and cares about each other like ours does, you tend to pick up the fight a little bit,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Our guys sensed that we needed to come together.”
Soon after half of the vaunted Splash Brothers dejectedly limped to the locker room, the other one kept the 3-pointers raining down. Klay Thompson made four of his seven 3s in the third as the Warriors made a franchise playoff-record eight in that quarter en route to an NBA playoff-record 21.
“Let’s not fool ourselves. When you hit the shots we’re hitting, things are going to go your way,” Draymond Green said.
James Harden was disgusted with Houston’s play in the third quarter.
“Terrible way, terrible way, terrible way to lose … just a terrible quarter and that’s what gave the game away,” Harden said.
Curry returned after missing two games with a sprained right ankle, but did not play in the second half after spraining his right knee on the final play of the second quarter. He’ll have an MRI on Monday.
Golden State used a 41-point third quarter to take control of the game. The Warriors bested the NBA record they shared for 3s in a playoff game — set last year against these Rockets — when Brandon Rush made one from the top of the key with about 2 1/2 minutes left.
Golden State hosts Game 5 on Wednesday.
“I was trying to raise our level of intensity,” said Thompson, who finished with 23 points. “When you play with emotion and play for your teammates, you can really get going. If we have that same emotion and intensity on Wednesday, we should be successful.”
Dwight Howard led Houston with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Harden had 18 points, 10 assists and seven steals.
“When the moment called for us to raise our intensity level, we dropped our guard,” Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “When their guy went down, you could see the intent in their guys’ eyes. The moment we needed to match their intensity, we didn’t do it.”
Andre Iguodala added a season-high 22 points and Green finished with 18.
Curry slid awkwardly to the court while defending on the last play before halftime and immediately grabbed his knee. He got up and looked to have trouble putting weight on it before jogging with a limp to the locker room. He came out with the team after halftime, but sat on the bench for most of the warmup time. After talking with coaches, he returned to the locker room.
The Warriors didn’t miss a beat without him and led by four with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter before making five 3-pointers in the next three minutes to fuel a 17-7 run that pushed the lead to 83-69.
Thompson hit another 3-pointer soon after that and the Warriors scored the last eight points of the quarter to lead 97-76 entering the fourth.
After his two-game layoff, Curry struggled to find his rhythm early. He was 2 of 9, including 1 of 7 on 3-pointers and had five turnovers before he was injured. He finished with six points.
Houston kept pace early behind dominant inside play by Howard, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds as the teams were tied at halftime.
“We should have played with the same energy that we did in the first half,” Howard said. “When plays didn’t go our way, we got upset and got a little frustrated.”
The Warriors, who set an NBA record with 73 wins in the regular season, bounced back after Thursday’s loss to avoid losing two games straight for the first time this season. They were the first team in NBA history to not lose two games in a row and also the first team to go an entire season without losing to the same team twice.