The Golden State Warriors won Game 7 on Monday night because—naturally, and as usual—they dominated the third quarter. In this case, they won the third by 18 points both because Houston missed 27 straight three-pointers and because Steph Curry took control of the game and mercilessly buried the Rockets. Curry was not always his best self in the Western Conference Finals, and his unevenness probably played a key role in nudging the Warriors towards the ugly, ineffective iso-ball that cost them Game 5 and nearly the series, but none of that mattered last night. It didn’t matter because Curry went off, and when Curry goes off, he breaks the game as thoroughly as any player besides LeBron James.
A 33-15 quarter suggests wire-to-wire domination, but really, Golden State won the game through one concentrated burst and then rode the confidence they built up during said burst all the way through a comfortable fourth quarter during which they finally played like themselves. Houston was up six with under six minutes to go in the third, and seemed to be out-hustling if not soundly out-playing the Warriors. That is when Steph Curry scored 11 straight points for his team and broke the Rockets’ spirit. Missing 27 three-pointers in a row is too great a fuckup to be chalked up to any single factor, but the Rockets seemed notably limp and progressively more defeated as they continued to hoist lame longballs while Curry gutted them on the other end. It looked futile and felt futile. Why wouldn’t it when Curry was shooting like this?
Curry is a great shooter, which is something everyone knows. But what truly makes him special is his quick release and incessant off-ball movement. The following play, which the Warriors ran twice to perfection minutes apart, is an example of how Curry needs only the tiniest window to can an open shot. It also shows how he creates that window by running into space that few others would seek to exploit.
Curry is taking advantage of the Rockets switch-heavy defensive scheme here by creating a situation in which his defender is not expecting him to pop over for a shooting opportunity, and is therefore not prepared to stay in his grill as necessary. It’s a small play, but a weird one and Curry is constantly finding those little advantages. There are just so many things to account for when defending Curry, and once he’s rolling, he only keeps raising the bar for wild plays. Watch him pretend to chip down, read James Harden’s mind, and pop up for the steal.
Simply put, the Warriors are the scariest version of themselves when Curry is doing outrageous basketball shit. Kevin Durant is an unguardable shooter who dropped 34 points last night and seemed generally unaffected by the Rockets switching really anybody onto him, and eminently capable of beating most teams on most nights more or less on his own. But everything Durant does, remarkable as it is on its own merits, is relatively predictable. Curry, on the other hand, is a genuine wild card, and it is to all appearances utterly demoralizing to try to corral him when he’s feeling himself. None of these observations are exactly new, of course, but the difference between the Warriors that couldn’t do anything besides miss two-pointers earlier in the series and the Warriors who swaggered all over Houston’s court last night is stark, and the transition from one team to another owes a great deal to the extent to which Steph Curry can scramble the parameters of basketball.