OAKLAND, Calif. — It was a moment, to be frozen in time, chilling to witness and stunning to fully understand when it burst upon an unsuspecting audience with gale force. A sequence of dribbling, a drive to the hoop followed by a delicate finger roll for a bucket and then, boom:
Steph Curry screamed a bad word.
Yes, he did. The religious family man with the innocent face and made-for-Disney image reached deep into his Forbidden Dictionary and found something naughty. Was this a first for him in public view? After a quick first-step left Trevor Ariza choking on exhaust and when he finished at the rim in the third quarter, Curry had an out of body experience and temporarily exhumed himself from Game 3.
While the action moved up-court, he turned and faced the Oracle Arena crowd — now standing and pulsating and pleading for more, more, more! — and removed his trusty mouthpiece, pointed both index fingers to the ground and bellowed, with attitude:
“This is my freaking house!”
Only he substituted another, ahem, adjective for “freaking.”
He acknowledged afterward, regrettably: “I know, I know. I blacked out.”
Point made, though. This was his house, his fans, his game, his turnaround performance of the playoffs and who knows, this could end up being his series as a result. Normally the most vivid expression anyone gets from Curry after a made basket is a playful shimmy shake, which happened on the previous possession, when he isolated on James Harden and splashed a 30-footer. Yes, that shot was satisfying and worth a wiggle.
But Curry was feeling it. And he hadn’t felt it for some time, since before the playoffs, since before the knee injury that kept him out for six weeks left him rusty. So there was emotional release coming that was cutting edge for him. This cursing was the sound of relief, from the frustration of all that, a two-time MVP hailed as the finest shooter of our generation suddenly bricking shots from 3 -point range in the Western Conference finals and becoming A Rather Big Topic here against the Rockets.
And so … maybe forgiveness for the potty mouth is in order?
Here’s why: Curry was three-for-20 beyond the 3-point stripe in the first two-and-a-half games against Houston, but the script flipped suddenly and sharply in Sunday's third quarter. He found himself, his stroke, his place in the pecking order, and he kept rolling with it. He hit layups, mid-range jumpers and yes, 3s, and they all came in a rush, a flood that engulfed the Rockets.
“We’ve seen this so many times with Steph,” coach Steve Kerr said. “All it takes is one. He bounces back from bad games as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. I was never concerned.”
He finished with 35 points, including 26 in the second half and the Warriors romped by 41. They’re up 2-1 now, with another home game coming Tuesday.
The Warriors have won their last 16 home playoff games, an NBA record. They also just held the high-wire Rockets to 85 points, a low for Houston in these playoffs. They’ve taken two of the three games easily, and in the one they didn’t, Curry wasn’t whole. Well, he seems to be now, and what will that say for the Rockets and the rest of this much-anticipated series that could go flatter than Nebraska?
The Warriors had a strong hunch that Curry’s shooting problems were only a phase, and if so, that was Houston’s biggest worry. Until Game 3, the Warriors had plenty of Kevin Durant but not much of anything else.
And there was another Curry-fueled issue: The Rockets were purposely running switches that would put him on Harden, the matchup Houston wanted to see and exploit.
The Rockets opened the game by constantly pulling these stunts and getting baskets. Kerr called timeout after one switch, where Harden left Curry on an island, and spoke with his player before the huddle.
The Warriors made amends for that by having Curry fight through the screens and staying on his man. Yet another problem persisted: Curry missed six of his seven 3-pointers in the first half.
“I had the right intentions,” he said. “I had five wide open 3s and only one went in. I knew I had to keep searching and find some openings.”
So he kept shooting, no matter the circumstances. It was akin to a camper in the woods furiously trying to light an inferno by rubbing a pair of twigs together. The smoke appeared, then the flame, and the ball finally felt familiar to Curry once again.
“I always say you should never lose confidence,” he said.
He turned to a common formula that shooters use to find their touch: Go for layups and then short jumpers to regain confidence and keep the defense honest. Then, let it fly from deep.
“You can’t be that great of a scorer without mental toughness,” Draymond Green said, “because you’re always going to face obstacles when it comes to shooting. He always has that `next shot’ mentality. Kudos to him. That’s something that's been the key to his career, his mental toughness. He wouldn’t be who he is today.”
What was particularly pleasing for Curry was returning serve to Harden. After repeatedly being victimized by the Rockets’ leading scorer on the other end of the floor, Curry suddenly chopped up Harden. He was isolated on Harden, an average defender at best, and the results were predictable.
Curry made 10 of 12 shots in the second half and his 26 points came in only 16 minutes.
From that point, it was routine for Curry once again: The shooting, the flow of the game and the energy from the crowd. The fans simply wouldn’t let him drift back into that other world. Everyone had a hunch that it was only a matter of time for Curry, but still. And what does one do when normalcy makes a refreshing return? He breathes easily and lives freely, with emotion, with a snow angel on the court once he landed after a made basket, and of course, the curse word heard ‘round the arena (and among lip readers around the world).
To that, he shrugs.
“A lot of it was just talking to myself,” he said. “You've got to be your biggest fan sometimes. You’ve got to find whatever to get yourself going. I mean obviously it felt good and you want to use that energy to show your teammates that you are here, you’re with them, and get the crowd into it.
“You come into transition and you find an open look and there’s a collective hush in the crowd, especially in this building. It’s a cool moment.”
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.