Bill Baptist/Getty Images
Stephen Curry was 0-of-5 for zero points at halftime of Friday’s Game 6. Hot-take factories around the world were warming. Two quarters later, Curry had a team-high 33 points. And his Golden State Warriors eliminated the Houston Rockets with a 118-113 victory at Toyota Center in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs.
“You know, he has those streaks,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters after the game. “And I did make the comment at half, ‘That’s not good he’s got zero. Cuz you know he was gonna come back and get a lot of points. I didn’t envision 33 points, but, you know, he’s capable, obviously. And he did it.”
☔️ @StephenCurry30 goes off for 33 PTS in the 2nd half, leading the @warriors past Houston and into the Western Conference Finals! #StrengthInNumbers #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/1A26pJfLEk
After two days of consternation over the loss of Kevin Durant to a calf strain, the pre-KD Warriors showed up in full force. They even started Andrew Bogut.
Draymond Green threatened a triple-double. Klay Thompson carried the team through Curry’s early struggles with 21 first-half points. But the story of this one, and the story going forward, is Curry.
Prior to Friday’s breakout, he was averaging 22 points on 39.4 percent shooting from the field and 26.3 percent shooting from three in this series. He had more fouls (20) than made threes (15). But the floodgates started to give in Game 5.
When Durant left with his injury with 2:05 left in the third quarter of Game 5, it felt like the Rockets had caught a huge break. If they could steal that contest without KD on the floor and then head back to Houston with a chance to close it out? The trip to the Western Conference Finals seemed like it was pretty much booking itself.
But Curry wouldn’t stand for that. From that point to the Game 5 buzzer, Curry was 5-of-9 for 16 points. If you combine the fourth quarters from Games 5 and 6, he had 35 points while going 5-of-8 from deep. And in Game 6 alone, he had 16 points in the final five minutes.
Golden State Warriors @warriors
S T E P H E N C U R R Y 33 points in 2nd half. Career-high 23 Points in the 4th quarter. https://t.co/ocPx61NU16
These were the #StrengthInNumbers Warriors that won a record-setting 73 regular-season games. There shouldn’t have been much reason for worry.
Over the last three seasons (playoffs included), the Warriors are plus-82 in the 2,965 minutes they’ve played with Durant on the floor and Curry off. That’s plus-1.3 per 48 minutes. They’re plus-579 in the 2,292 minutes they’ve played with Curry on the floor and Durant off. That’s plus-12.1 per 48 minutes.
And in all those Durant-less minutes, Curry averaged 32.8 points per 36 minutes while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from three.
Those shooting percentages are a bit better when he shares the floor with Durant, but there’s clearly something to those throwback lineups. The flaws of plus-minus are well-known, but over the course of three years, those can be ironed out.
So, even if Durant is out for an extended stretch, the Warriors should be considered heavy favorites in the Western Conference Finals.
In Game 6, the old Curry/Draymond pick-and-roll was back in favor of the KD isos. As Houston doubled (or at least hedged high) on the ball screen, Curry was able to find Green heading downhill with a chance to play four-on-three. That’ll happen plenty if Nikola Jokic or Enes Kanter is forced to chase Curry off the line.
And neither the Denver Nuggets nor the Portland Trail Blazers have the personnel to recover in time to challenge every shot when the Warriors are moving the ball like they did in 2014-15 or 2015-16. Expect plenty of possessions with the floor spread, Curry dragging defenders toward half court and the ball zipping all over the place.
What’s more, Golden State’s defensive identity seems to be intact. In the 55 minutes the Warriors have played with Draymond, Bogut and Thompson on the floor, they’re giving up 104.2 points per 100 possessions. The Milwaukee Bucks’ first-place defense surrendered 104.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season.
It feels like Golden State has turned back the clock.
Of course, the Warriors would rather Durant hadn’t strained his calf in Game 5. But Friday should not have been a surprise to many.
And if the Nuggets or Blazers ease up, thinking the basketball gods have opened a path to the Finals for them, they may find themselves in a world of hurt, scrambling all over the floor while trying to contain the only unanimous MVP in NBA history.
Advanced stats courtesy of NBA.com.