HOUSTON — One of the enigmas that demonstrates the historic greatness of the Golden State Warriors is when their star players have a slump. It is at the same time both concerning and frightening.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have not been themselves in the high stakes series with the Houston Rockets. They’re shooting just 37 percent overall and 27 percent on 3-pointers, the weapon that earned them their Splash Brothers nickname.
In Saturday’s 126-121 Game 3 loss, Curry and Thompson combined to miss 26 of 39 shots. In the final minutes, those misses included Curry blowing an uncontested layup and a dunk – as an aside here, Curry is now 1-of-4 on dunks this season, including one where he nearly seriously hurt himself, perhaps he should shelve it – and Thompson badly missed the type of clean 15-footer that any high school starter should make.
And yet, it still took 41 points from James Harden — including a fortunate non-call on the game-clinching basket where Harden easily could’ve been hit with an offensive foul, probably leaving the Warriors to be the ones stewing over the forthcoming last two-minute report this time — plus overtime for the Rockets to win a game.
This is just how tremendous of a mountain the Warriors are to climb. Even as Thompson and Curry are mired, Golden State is still so difficult to overcome. That’s why the concept is scary for the opponent, even when you hold the Warriors duo down you sometimes barely survive.
Curry and Thompson have missed at least two-thirds of their 3-pointers for four consecutive games, the worst such streak of their playoff career according to ESPN Stats and Information. They had just four made 3-pointers Saturday on 15 attempts, one of the lowest collective outputs of their now lengthy playoff careers.
In Game 3, Curry was just 2-of-9 in the restricted area and didn’t score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Those seven close-in misses were the most in his career.
Thompson had a flurry in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points that helped the Warriors erase what was a 13-point Rockets lead and force overtime, but he was also scoreless in the OT.
The Rockets are working hard at it. They’ve started matching Golden State’s small ball lineups, playing without a true center so they can switch on screens and limit the Warriors airspace. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers are exhausting themselves fighting though contact to challenge shots.
The Rockets, of course, know most of Golden State’s pet plays and they scrap to try to blow them up, even if it doesn’t always work.
“For the most part we pretty much got every shot we wanted,” said Curry, who admitted his failed dunk attempt came in an attempt to get out frustration. “The difference between winning and losing a playoff game is very thin no matter who you’re playing.”
In addition to the shooting woes, Curry has been in a mental fog during the series. He’s repeatedly committed fouls that have gotten him into foul trouble and messed with Golden State’s rotation, which is thin to begin with. Curry has ended up with five in each of the three games, and should fouled out of Game 1 – twice according to the league – in the final two minutes.
The Rockets have something to do with it; they are purposely putting him in switch situations where he’s got to handle a bigger man and has been caught repeatedly making positioning fouls. But some of his risk-taking just hasn’t been smart.
He’s had a few major defensive gaffes, including a breakout on a switch in the fourth quarter Saturday where he lost Rivers and gave up a vital 3-pointer.
“It wasn’t my night,” Curry said. “I’ll be thinking about (mistakes) tonight, I’ll go to sleep and turn the page.”
When the night was over, Curry rode a stationary bike in the middle of the visitors’ locker room at the Toyota Center for nearly 20 minutes and scanned his phone. He pedaled in silence as teammates showered, dressed, grabbed a catered meal from Morton’s and headed for the bus.
The track records tell us it’s only a matter of time before this streak ends and Curry and Thompson reverse this trend. Maybe this low moment will be a nice narrative for Game 4. It’s happened before. And the deeper this Splash Brothers recession gets, the more you come to expect it.
So do they.
“It sucks that we lost but we have an opportunity on Monday to take a commanding lead,” Thompson said. “And we will if we do what we’re supposed to do.”