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The Golden Breakdown: Looking at Stephen Curry’s nightmare of a performance

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Curry’s performance left much to be desired, with all sorts of criticism being directed toward him. How he’ll respond in Game 4 could be an indication of how long this series will last.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Criticizing Stephen Curry is often a fine line that is treaded lightly, especially among Warriors fans. But that fine line became rather blurred after Game 3, where Curry had one of his worst playoff performances in his career, if not the worst. It was a nightmare of a performance that can be summarized into one statement: He simply did not show up against the Rockets.

Putting up a stat line of 17 points on 7-for-23 shooting (30.4 percent) and 2-for-9 from three-point range (22.2 percent) just isn’t going to cut it. The Warriors needed more from the two-time MVP, the best point guard in the world, and considered as one of the three best players in the world — but what they received from him was considerably subpar.

It’s been a consistent pattern every time Curry doesn’t blow people away with an excellent game, something that is always expected from someone of his stature and pedigree. Despite his struggles, people anticipate that he will eventually rebound and explode like the Human Torch that he is, putting up an MVP-worthy performance that will finally showcase what he has always been capable of.

In this series against the Rockets, people have waited for such an explosion. And after Game 3, they’re still waiting.

People point to Curry’s exceptional advanced metrics as proof of his importance to the Warriors offense. Going into Game 3, Curry was still averaging 23.3 points on a shooting split of .474/.423/.979, with a true-shooting percentage of .680.

That importance is still undeniable — his gravity alone, even when off the ball and running around trying to get open, warps the opposing defense and stretches it thin, affording his teammates opportunities to make plays or to score with little to no resistance.

But Curry has a notorious tendency to be passive. He spends too much time without the ball in his hands, not asking for it enough and opting to defer to his fellow superstars. Once he doesn’t acquire his desired freedom off the ball — something that opposing defenses have become more accustomed to doing by hook or by crook — Curry gives up, and it is left to the others to make something out of nothing.

Being unselfish has its own merits, and it is something to be admired, especially for someone of his stature. But just like its polar opposite, unselfishness eventually reaches a point of diminishing return. When done too often, it stops being beneficial and starts being detrimental. Curry is more than capable of handling the ball and acting as the conduit, the focal point that all 10 eyes on defense must pay heed to — it’s simply a matter of his desire and willingness to act like one.

To Curry’s credit, while he still had his moments of blending in too much into the background, he also had his moments of individuality on offense. Exploiting mismatches against big men such as Clint Capela and Nene, Curry got the matchups he wanted. When the Warriors defense managed to get stops, Curry was able to run in transition, where he was largely unimpeded.

For once, passivity and a lack of aggression weren’t the main problems for Curry in Game 3. He took 23 shots and 9 threes, and was able to saunter his way toward the rim.

The problem, however, was that the shots weren’t falling. He has had his fair share of offensive duds, and for someone who relies largely on rhythm and momentum, it’s not that much of a surprise when Curry isn’t humming on offense whenever he fails to establish such crucial factors.

Just like how Curry builds up his power levels with each made basket and each jaw-dropping three-pointer, the pendulum can also swing toward the opposite direction. For each missed shot, each turnover committed, and each foul called on him, Curry’s momentum dies a slow and painful death, which often leads to him faltering during the biggest moments.

Six of those missed shots were point-blank layups, all of which were telling of how Curry’s night went.

With the exception of the first missed shot, which Draymond Green tipped in, Curry’s misses cost the Warriors 10 points that could’ve gone a long way toward a potential victory. Five of those six missed shots came from his dominant non-injured hand, taking away any notions of using his injury as a potential excuse for his subpar finishing.

“I have no idea, you’d have to ask him,” Steve Kerr said when asked about Curry’s injury potentially affecting his performance. “He obviously struggled tonight, and it just wasn’t his night. It would not be right for me to just speculate on how much his finger bothered him.”

When Curry himself was asked about it, he shut down any talk of his injury having an impact on his missed shots.

“I just gotta make those,” Curry said. “If I’m out there playing, gotta produce, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”

Production may not have come from Curry, but it did come from three of his teammates. Kevin Durant had 46 points and 6 assists with no turnovers, continually making his case for being the best player in the world. Green had a triple-double, with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. (Before this loss, the Warriors had an incredible 27-0 record whenever Green recorded a triple-double).

Even Andre Iguodala had an exceptional offensive outing, scoring 16 points and knocking down 3 of his 4 attempts from beyond the arc, including a crucial go-ahead three that put the Warriors ahead by 2 points with just under a minute left in regulation.

While Durant may have surpassed everyone else in the league — including Curry — in the best-player-in-the-world discussions, it still doesn’t take away from Curry’s importance to the Warriors. He is still the engine that keeps the machine running, the singularity within a black hole where the pull of gravity is at its strongest. The Warriors need him to be the focal point, even if he doesn’t necessarily have to be the one to finish the plays (although he does still need to finish when the opportunity presents itself).

The Warriors will certainly make adjustments as a team on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the Warriors were a step below their usual standards, allowing the Rockets to shoot 48.4 percent from the field and allowing the Rockets to knock down 18 threes out of 42 attempts, good for 42.9 percent. They also gave up 17 offensive rebounds, giving the Rockets extra possessions that allowed them to maintain or stretch their lead.

Curry himself didn’t have a particularly good night on defense, with his biggest lapse coming from this possession, where he inexplicably leaves Austin Rivers open and allows him to knock down an uncontested look from beyond the arc.

Offensively, the Warriors may need to allow Curry to handle the ball more often in the half court. Theoretically, having Curry handle the ball and getting him more touches would afford him more opportunities to get into a rhythm, allowing him to attract attention on offense and setting up Durant and Thompson to have an easier time scoring. Alternatively, the Warriors may need to find new ways to leverage Curry’s gravity — the Rockets defense did an exceptional job at shutting down off-ball actions through their heavy switching.

If the Warriors want to close out the Rockets as soon as possible, they will need to find a way to get Curry going. But it’s also a two-way street; Curry himself will also need to find ways to score, to be the center of the Warriors’ offensive universe as he has always been.

“Very confident in him. We know what Steph’s capable of,” Green said when asked about his confidence in Curry bouncing back. “I’ve grown to expect that. You don’t really expect a guy to have an off night like he did. We need Steph to continue being Steph, continue shooting the basketball no matter if he’s struggling or not. When he’s on the floor he opens up a lot of things for everyone else, so he still has an impact in that way. We know his shots will start falling.”

With that performance out of the way, now is the time for Curry to live up to his stature, to prove those who are ready to pass judgment on him for one singular night of ineptitude wrong, and to help the Warriors close out a pesky but determined team who is eager to extract more blood than the drop they managed to draw last night.

Curry has always been lauded and praised as being better, as that famous hashtag on Twitter says. As the series shifts toward a pivotal Game 4, it is all the more crucial that he proves that he is indeed better than everyone else.

Six wins down, 10 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.