How do you stop this? We could focus on everything the Rockets did wrong—James Harden shooting 3 for 16, Corey Brewer attempting multiple times to take the game over—but that wouldn’t be fair. That would deny the role the Warriors played in forcing those wrong things to happen. Without an ounce of hyperbole, that might have been the best start-to-finish game an NBA team has played this season. The Rockets had the third best record in the league this season! They played well in Games 1 and 2, were at home, desperately needed a victory to keep alive any hope of winning the series, and just got annihilated by 35. 35! In the history of the NBA, only one other team has ever won a Conference Finals or Finals game on the road by 35 (via Basketball-Reference).
Stephen Curry will probably get the headlines, and well, he deserves them. What the hell was this?
The Rockets block a shot, and their reward is Steph Curry nailing a three in the faces of the taunting fans.
Or what about this?
He boxed out Dwight Howard for the one-handed rebound, and then immediately went back up and drew a foul? C’mon.
The offensive statistical trivia is staggering. In taking a 12-point lead in the first quarter, they had nine assists on 12 made buckets and committed no turnovers. In the first half the Warriors averaged 1.3 points per possession. Curry scored 40 points—on 7-9 three-point shooting—and had seven assists and five rebounds. And does it seem like he always makes that left corner three? He does.
Despite the Steph Curry fireworks show, my favorite play of the game—feel free to call me a basketball hipster—was a seemingly meaningless defensive possession. After David Lee’s layup gave the Warriors a 25-point lead, the Rockets had 11 seconds left in the half to get a bucket. You would have forgiven the Warriors if they relaxed. Is there really a difference between a 23-point lead at the half and a 25-point lead at the half?
But really watch what happens with Andre Iguodala here. While Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson each take their turns guarding James Harden, when he’s in the game Iguodala is the primary Harden-stopper. But on the final play of the half, that will certainly end with James Harden shooting—especially after he decided to pass in a final shot situation at the end of Game 2—you can see Iguodala switch off of Harden and onto Jason Terry.
As Iguodala jogs back with Terry, Terrence Jones goes to set a screen for Harden. Instead of sticking with Jones, David Lee points and yells at Iguodala to take him. When Jones does indeed set the screen, Thompson and Iguodala switch, and voila, Iguodala is guarding Harden for the final play of the half.
Now, I can’t say for sure that Iguodala planned this out. But go read this piece and watch the videos of Iguodala breaking down his defensive thought process in excruciating detail, and tell me he couldn’t have planned it out. And if it wasn’t a brilliant individual defensive effort, it was a brilliant team defensive effort. Because if Iguodala didn’t plan to end up on Harden, David Freaking Lee—revolving door David Lee—saw that he was about to be switched onto Harden, and instead directed Iguodala to take him. Now imagine trying to direct an offense that has to deal with that intelligent of a defense 100 times a game.
The Warriors won plenty of games this season because of their incredible ball movement. They won plenty of games because Stephen Curry went bananas. They won plenty of games because of their hyper-intelligent defense.
But not all of those things need to happen for the Warriors to win. They win many games when only one of them does, and most games when two of them do. And when all three are present on the same night? My god, it is a sight to behold.