The Golden State Warriors have only lost one playoff series under head coach Steve Kerr in the last 3 years. A major reason for this is they have the versatile personnel and brilliant strategies to adapt to whatever their opponent throws at them. They remind me of the T-1000 death robot in the “Terminator II” movie; constantly threat assessing and shapeshifting to deliver a lethal response.
In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors did just that to the Houston Rockets. After the Rockets won Game 2 in large part by embarrassing Stephen Curry on the defensive end, he tortured the Rockets in isolation, much in the same manner they had hoped to do to him.
Curry transformed from the aquatic dominance of his Splash Brother mode, to his original, terrifying form: The Human Torch. He had 35 points in the Warriors 126-85 eviscerating of Houston (James Harden and Chris Paul combined for 33 points. Yikes).
We also witnessed the return of the sneering, shimmying, extremely confident Curry. It was infectious, as both his teammates and the crowd swamped the star-struck Rockets in humiliating fashion. It was the display of arrogance that has defined the Curry-era Warriors, and perpetually infuriates their helpless victims.
Let’s reflect on how the Warriors weaponized joy and turned the tables in gloating fashion on the 65 win Rockets.
The Rockets’ big strategy: assault the Unanimous One
The Houston Rockets backcourt of Chris Paul and James Harden attacked the 2-time MVP Curry in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Everyone could see it plain as day: Houston was making a show of picking on Curry, using his two petty rivals. The more the Warriors unsuccessfully rotated on defense to hide Curry, the more fragile he appeared. The Warriors defense sprung holes and the Rockets ripped them apart.
It didn’t help matters that his average 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists during those two games looked rather pedestrian in the biggest series of the season. Additionally, his three-point shot looked rusty as hell, as he went 2-for-13 from downtown. As the games got tight, Curry mostly deferred to the red-hot Kevin Durant, and the whispers started that Curry was either not healthy or too frail for physical defense.
Curry had clearly had enough, and ominously referred to a possible changing of strategy in the days between Game 2 and Game 3.
Steph Curry: "We were being too cute with our exchanges and switches, instead of just manning up and playing 1-on-1 defense."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 17, 2018
Warriors assess Rocket’s strategy, and neutralize it completely
Before Game 3 started, I texted my fellow GSoM scribes a question: wouldn’t it be better to have Curry guard his rivals straight up? Like, instead of every Rockets pick-and-roll forcing the Warriors into a dainty dance to cover up Curry’s size disadvantage, what if Curry simply focused on guarding the ball-handler?
As the Rockets forced the Dubs into a timeout after slipping out to an 8-4 lead in Oracle, I grew annoyed. Each time they had scored in that early run, was by targeting Curry and confusing the rotating defense. Now, it was clear that the Rockets had figured out the scheme, and coach Steve Kerr’s hand would be forced to change things up.
Suddenly, when Curry became isolated on Harden or Paul, there was no frantic pointing and confused side-to-side glances from the Warriors defense. Curry got down into defensive stance, and his fellow Warriors began to connect on a string behind him. Curry began closing the airspace, denying a decent jumpshot look. If his man worked to get past him, another Warrior easily rotated to cut off the drive. Soon, the Rockets were stymied into indecision, with their easy buckets choked off by the disciplined, calm Warriors D.
The Rockets offense began hemorrhaging bad turnovers and terrible shots. They finished with 19 assists, 19 turnovers, and 39% shooting from the field. As their offense dried up, they would need their “new and improved” defense to hold the rope before the Warriors ran up the score on them. Unfortunately for them, Curry was ready to do some personal targeting of his own.
Curry’s new strategy: assault CP3 and the Beard
In the first half, Curry was hunting for his offense like he was running late for his Mom’s surprise birthday party and tearing apart his house searching for his missing car keys. He was annoyed, focused, and in a hurry to get going. You know the old saying about always finding things in the last place you look? Well he found his offense by looking directly into Chris Paul’s eyes and deciding it was time to destroy him.
The audacity of Steph to blow by “premier defender” CP3 while HIS MOUTHPIECE CASUALLY DANGLED OUT OF THE SIDE OF HIS MOUTH LIKE A CUBAN CIGAR. But Steph wasn’t done annihilating Paul.
There's the Steph we know and love pic.twitter.com/4oeG8CbCHj— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 21, 2018
Good lawd, Curry just blasted Paul’s face off from 30 feet, y’all. Curry is an equal opportunity sniper though: he wanted to make sure the Beard got some of that fire too. Watch as Curry patiently, sadistically waits for Harden to get forced into a switch on him, before unleashing a taste of his own medicine.
The Human Torch shimmied, gloated, and laughed the Rockets straight out of the building in the third quarter. Per ESPN:
Curry had 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the third quarter, lying with his back flat on the court for his unique version of a snow angel and even following one basket with an expletive, shouting “This is my ... house!” to the thousands who cheered and exhaled, exhilarated by his every move and rumble.
I just want y’all to know, I plan on continuing to be just as “confident” in my gold-blooded musings as Curry is, when he’s literally laying on his back making snow angels in a playoff game versus a #1 seed.
Oh wow! That’s weird! Here Curry was being lambasted for being a traffic cone on defense and he’s actually holding up relatively well compared to “presumptive MVP” Harden!
Speaking of Harden’s defense:
GET THESE BUMS OUT OF ORACLE!
The confidence of Weaponized Joy
As a grateful and bombastic scribe for Dub Nation, I hear a lot of jibber jabber from both Warriors fans and haters about arrogance. It might be my favorite part about the comments and DM’s I receive: being warned about obnoxiously believing too much in my hometown basketball team.
Now, I can see it from the hater’s perspective. Look at Nick Wright up there, back in 2016, complaining about the Warriors antics. If I was not a Warriors fan, I would be pissed about their constant celebrations at my team’s expense, 100%. That’s part of sports-hate: when the Warriors were on the bottom, I shook my fist angrily at Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers or LeBron’s Heat. In WWF terms, it’s the equivalent of booing the bad guy because he hit your favorite wrestler with a steel chair and then poured beer on his comatose body.
I get it.
I used to abhor Laker fans; their snobbish faith in their teams made their run hella annoying. Still, it made the games even more interesting as I eagerly waited for any sign of their dynasty crumbling. So, during today’s Golden Era, if any fan reads one of my gold-blooded reveries and feel annoyed, SO BE IT.
Golden State is more unbeatable with KD, but way less fun, so it's the worst possible outcome for people who love basketball and aren't Golden State fans. Inevitability plus soullessness.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) May 21, 2018
(How can we be soulless when all we do is take souls?)
Yet, here at GSoM I’ve been chided for “dismissing the Rockets”, “assuming it’ll be easy”, and “having too much hubris”. I can see where they’re coming from. Perhaps I should show them where I’m coming from.
When I first was absorbed into the brilliant collective here at GSoM, I told them that I wanted to bring a “Draymondian” perspective. For reference, let me show you what that means.
This is what Draymond Green, the unquestioned heartbeat of the team, told GQ last October after hearing the Rockets molded their roster to stop the Warriors:
“What the f%k are you talking about?” he says to me. “They are really trying to rethink their whole strategy”—here he bumps a table repeatedly with his hand for emphasis, getting excited—“because teams know they don’t have a fu%ing clue.”
On a roll now, he remembers the Warriors’ lone playoff loss, in Game 4 of the Finals, when the Cavs sank twenty-four three-pointers, an NBA Finals record.
“That’d never been done!” Green exclaims. “They don’t come out and hit twenty-four threes and they’re swept. And that’s the second best team in the world. It’s pretty f&#@ing sick to see how everybody is just in a fu#*ing panic about what to do. You sit back and think, like, these motherf#*@ers, they know. That’s the fun part about it: They know they don’t stand a chance.”
Green clearly dismissed the Rockets back in October, but it’s not because he thinks it’ll be easy. It’s because he has so much confidence in his team, that he doesn’t believe they can be stopped by any team in the NBA currently constructed. The definition of hubris is exaggerated pride or self-confidence. The fact that the Warriors just handed the Rockets their worst playoff loss in franchise history, seems a pretty good indicator that Green’s dismissive diatribe wasn’t rooted in anything exaggerated.
Now I, a mere lowly scribe in the Golden Kingdom, am simply an echo of the pounding throb of the Warriors heartbeat. I am a small vapor that rises from the heat of the Human Torch’s arson. While others might accuse me of hubris (excessive confidence), I wonder if in fact they don’t have enough confidence.
Some may argue that “it would be a bad look” if the Warriors lose the title after Green’s comments. Sure, but if the fear of “looking bad” were the ultimate deterrent, we would never have Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders....or today’s Warriors.
Even Coach Kerr knows Curry wields arrogance like a superweapon:
“He’s an arrogant basketball player, which is what you need to be a superstar,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He goes out there and he’s looking to light it up every night.”
Here’s Steph’s careful words on the subject:
“Cockiness almost to me makes you feel invincible and it’s a trap,” Curry said. “We’re confident to the fact that we know if we play the way we’re supposed to play, we should win most of our games and be the best team in the league. But we’re not invincible, where we can show up, psyche a team out, play any way we want to and come out with victories like it’s not, we won’t cheat the game like that.”
The Warriors have blurred the lines between humble practitioners of the beautiful game and swaggering bullies looking to crush souls through pure humiliation. It’s becoming clearer with each game in this series that the Rockets are more limited than their 65 win record might suggest, while the Warriors are far more powerful than you may have imagined.
Health permitting, I foresee more humiliation of the Rocket in the near future.