HOUSTON — Houston, you don't have a problem.
You've got lots of them. Too many of them.
That was painfully obvious on Saturday night, when the Warriors were back to their old dominant selves again while the Houston Rockets played like a dispirited bunch that had all but called it a season.
After close calls in the first two games of the the Western Conference finals, Stephen Curry and his supporting cast left no doubt in a 115-80 embarrassment that moved them within one victory of their first NBA Finals berth in 40 years.
“I felt like we didn't play our best in the first two games, but we played well enough,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I felt like we were ready to play our A-game, which we did in the first half. It was a terrific defensive effort.”
The Warriors can close out the series in Game 4 at Toyota Center on Monday night. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Of the 116 teams that were in that predicament, only three forced a seventh game.
Curry was never better on this night. The reigning Most Valuable Player went off for 40 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He drained 7 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.
“Steph was Steph,” shrugged Kerr, who ran out of adjectives months ago.
“The ball movement tonight was the best it has been all series,” Curry said. “So when you get a few to go down early in the game, it just builds your confidence even more.”
Curry had plenty of help this time, much of it in the paint area. Draymond Green had 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Andrew Bogut contributed a dozen points and as many rebounds. Festus Ezeli had 10 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Meanwhile, Rockets go-to guy James Harden came down to Earth with a loud thud. He finished with 17 points, 10 at the free throw line. He bricked 13 of 16 field goal tries.
“We were too relaxed,” Harden said. “We were too comfortable. We are playing downhill the majority of the game trying to come back, trying to fight. The fight wasn't enough.”
Harrison Barnes replaced Klay Thompson as the primary defender on Harden at the outset. In what amounted to a 1-2-2 zone, the Warriors made a greater effort to take away space, which limited his drives to the basket.
“H.B. [Barnes] was a different body, a different look,” assistant coach Ron Adams said. “We kept the pressure on [Harden] better than we had before. We also had the early lead, which also made a difference.”
Faced with a virtual must-win situation in front of their home crowd, the Rockets inexplicably lacked focus much of the way. They were consistently late to loose balls, slow to get back on defense and passive on offense. Somehow, they even allowed Curry to roam free at the perimeter more than once.
All that one needed to know about Game 3 took place midway though the second quarter. After a missed shot, Curry gained inside rebound position on Rockets center Dwight Howard despite an eight-inch, 75-pound disadvantage. Howard had no choice but to foul Curry on the play, and he converted both free throws for a 44-29 advantage.
“We have to be able to handle our business in the paint — score down there, get fouled and offensive rebounds,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They beat us up in those two areas. We had no answer for that.”
In one of their most dominant quarters of the postseason, the Warriors shot out to a 30-18 lead in the first 12 minutes. The had nine assists on 12 baskets and did not commit turnover. At the other end, they limited the Rockets to 7 of 22 in the field.
In the second half, the Warriors never led by less than 18 points. The margin of victory was their largest in the playoffs in the shot clock era.
By then, all that was left for Curry do was toy with the crowd. After one fan heckled him, Curry calmly drained 3-pointer, took a few steps downcourt, turned around and flashed a gentle smile.
“Just having fun with him,” Curry explained.
It's not nice to kick a choking dog when it's down, you know.