Down by five in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors had less than 30 seconds left in overtime to match the Houston Rockets. Stephen Curry took a blind screen from Green on Austin, crossed over James Harden, and instead of going for a three, tried to draw contact with a dunk. He barely drew rim.
“Not my finest moment,” he said.
It was the second of two open looks in the waning moments of Saturday’s 126-121 loss that Curry whiffed. Curry’s dunk went off the front of the rim, and fell harmlessly to the floor, and as Chris Paul took the ball up the court, Golden State refused to foul.
After fighting back from down 13 points in the third quarter, after two clutch corner threes from Andre Iguodala and 46 points from Kevin Durant, the Warriors went missing over the final 90 seconds (and Curry for much longer). Going away from Durant twice in the final minute and a half cost Golden State, which lost for the first time in a game where Draymond Green had a triple-double.
“Kevin put us on his back, and we couldn’t get it done,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
Curry and Klay Thompson were largely non-factors, combining to go 13-for-39 from the field and just 4-for-15 from 3-point range. Kerr said part of the blame fell on him for not getting shots for Thompson early in the first half.
Curry, nursing a taped finger he dislocated in Game 2, seemed out of sorts for much of the game, starting when he broke a string of 43 straight free throw makes by missed two of three on a first-quarter shooting foul.
“He’s a veteran player, been around for so long, we all have bad games, where we didn’t shoot as well as we wanted to,” Durant said of Curry. “The next game, we tell him to do the same thing, approach it the same way, have the same work ethic.”
Since proclaiming, “I’m Kevin Durant, you know who I am,” after his own lackluster performance in Game 2 of the first round, Durant has averaged 37 points per game, and he had another virtuoso game on Saturday. He went 14-of-31 from the floor, 6-of-10 from three and 12-of-12 from the free throw line, adding six assists and three rebounds.
“Kevin is unstoppable,” Kerr said. “There is nothing you can do with a lot of those shots.”
Inexplicably, though, after pulling to within one on Iguodala’s second clutch three in the final minute and a half of overtime, the Warriors didn’t go to Durant on two key possessions, both of which resulted in no points, and gave the ball back to the Rockets to extend their lead.
Durant at that point was red hot. He had scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, and in the first two minutes of the fourth, scored 10 more. He hit 5-of-9 in the fourth quarter, turning a seven-point deficit into a 94-93 Golden State lead with a step-in three at the top of the arc over Iman Shumpert with 10:03 to go.
“He was brilliant, and especially, to start the fourth quarter, when he just took over the game,” Kerr said. “When you have a guy like that on your team, it gives everyone confidence. That’s when we finally got some traction in the game and got our momentum. He did his job, and we couldn’t quite finish the game.”
The teams traded one-point leads until Harden tied things with a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds of regulation.
The biggest difference came in the paint. The Rockets pulled down 20 more rebounds than Golden State (55-35) and had 18 offensive rebounds to seven on the offensive glass for the Warriors. Houston also outscored Golden State in the paint, 52-40.
“They punched us first, beat us to the 50/50 balls,” said Warriors forward Kevon Looney.
“Let’s be honest,” Kerr said. “It would have been a steal if we had won that game.”
An uneven first half had Golden State playing catch-up. While the Warriors had effectively taken away the Harden-to-Clint Capela lob over the first two games, holding him to 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in the first two contests, the Houston center posted 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half alone on Saturday, as he and Harden went to the cup often, creating second-chance opportunities.
“Clint Capela, he’s definitely going to feed off of James, and CP [Chris Paul] driving to the rim a lot,” Durant said. “His points, we can try to take them away, but we’ve just got to play hard in those situations.”
Even when Harden came out of the game, the Rockets were still able to continue to get put-backs and second-chance opportunities, and went from trailing by nine during the first quarter to leading by nine when Harden re-entered the game, nearly four minutes into the second quarter.
The Rockets hit eight of their next 13 3-pointers, largely because Houston allowed point guard Chris Paul to initiate the offense, rather than leaving the ball in the hands of Harden and leaving him to play one-on-one. With the Golden State defense — particularly Green, Iguodala and Thompson — focused on Harden and Paul, Eric Gordon went off, hitting five 3-pointers through the first 32 minutes of the game, and nine of his first 15 shots. He finished with 30 points. Iman Shumpert, too, got into the act, hitting three 3-pointers on the night.
“Gordon does a good job of attacking, as soon as the possession changes,” Kerr said. “He’s attacking, he’s running the wing, he’s catching the ball and attacking the rim, so we’ve got to be loaded up. It can’t just be one guy, you’ve got to have your whole team aware of what he’s trying to do.”
After the Warriors whittled the lead down to five in the third quarter, a transition three by Paul from the Toyota Center logo forced Kerr to call time out, down by 11. It was then that Harden came alive, hitting 6-of-10 from the field in the third quarter, including three from beyond the arc. Harden finished with 41 on 14-of-32 shooting and 5-of-13 from three. It was only because of Durant that Golden State was able to stay within striking distance.
After Durant’s onslaught in the fourth, Thompson was able to come up with a defensive stop, forcing a jump ball by grabbing the ball on a Chris Paul jump stop with 1.5 seconds left in regulation.
The Warriors were sluggish to start the extra period, though. After Durant hit three free throws on a shooting foul with 47.6 seconds to go in overtime — his first touch since the 2:29 mark — Harden hit a driving floater after chewing 20 seconds of clock. It was his third make in four overtime tries, including a step-back three with 49 seconds left. Golden State, as a team, went 2-for-6 in the bonus period. Game 3 tips off at 6:30 Pacific on Monday in Houston.
“It’s going to be a fight,” Harden told ABC after the game. “Every possession in every game, we’ve got to be physically tough and mentaly tough. We know who we’re facing down there.”