HOUSTON — One of the enigmas that demonstrates the historic greatness of the Golden State Warriors is when their star players have a slump. It is both concerning for the Warriors and frightening for opponents.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have not been themselves in the high-stakes Western Conference semifinal series with the Houston Rockets. They’re shooting just 37 percent overall and 27 percent on 3-pointers, the weapon that earned them their Splash Brothers nickname.
In Saturday’s 126-121 Game 3 loss, Curry and Thompson combined to miss 26 of 39 shots. In the final minutes, those misses included Curry blowing an uncontested layup and a dunk — as an aside, Curry is now 1-of-4 on dunks this season, including one in which he almost seriously hurt himself — and Thompson badly missed the type of clean 15-footer that any high school starter should make.
And yet, it still took 41 points from James Harden — including a fortunate non-call on the game-clinching basket where Harden easily could’ve been hit with an offensive foul, probably leaving the Warriors to be the ones stewing over the forthcoming last-two-minutes report — plus overtime for the Rockets to win a game.
This is just how tremendous of a mountain the Warriors are to climb. Even as Thompson and Curry are mired in a slump, the Warriors are still so difficult to overcome. That’s why the concept is scary for opponents. Even when you hold the Warriors duo down, you sometimes barely survive.
Curry and Thompson have missed at least two-thirds of their 3-pointers for four consecutive games, the worst such streak of their playoff careers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. They had just four made 3-pointers Saturday on 15 attempts, one of the lowest collective outputs of their now lengthy playoff careers.
In Game 3, Curry was just 2-of-9 in the restricted area and didn’t score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Those seven close-in misses were the most in his career.
Thompson had a flurry in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points that helped the Warriors erase what was a 13-point Rockets lead and force overtime, but he was also scoreless in OT.
The Rockets are working hard at overcoming the Warriors. They’ve started matching Golden State’s small-ball lineups, playing without a true center so they can switch on screens and limit the Warriors’ airspace. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers are exhausting themselves fighting through contact to challenge shots.
The Rockets, of course, know most of Golden State’s pet plays, and they scrap to try to blow them up, even if it doesn’t always work.
“For the most part, we pretty much got every shot we wanted,” said Curry, who admitted his failed dunk attempt came while trying to get out frustration. “The difference between winning and losing a playoff game is very thin, no matter who you’re playing.”
In addition to the shooting woes, Curry has been in a mental fog during the series. He has repeatedly committed fouls that have gotten him into foul trouble and messed with Golden State’s rotation, which is thin to begin with. Curry has ended up with five fouls in each of the three games, and he should have fouled out of Game 1 — twice, according to the league — in the final two minutes.
The Rockets have something to do with it; they are purposely putting him in switch situations where he has to handle a bigger man and has been caught repeatedly making positioning fouls. But some of his risk-taking just hasn’t been smart.
He has had a few major defensive gaffes, including a breakout on a switch in the fourth quarter Saturday in which he lost Rivers and gave up a vital 3-pointer.
“It wasn’t my night,” Curry said. “I’ll be thinking about [mistakes] tonight; I’ll go to sleep and turn the page.”
After the game, Curry rode a stationary bike in the middle of the visitors locker room at the Toyota Center for nearly 20 minutes and scanned his phone. He pedaled in silence as teammates showered, dressed, grabbed a catered meal and headed for the bus.
The track records tell us it’s only a matter of time before this slump ends for Curry and Thompson. Maybe this low moment will be a nice narrative for Game 4. It has happened before. And the deeper this Splash Brothers recession gets, the more you come to expect it.
So do they.
“It sucks that we lost, but we have an opportunity on Monday to take a commanding lead,” Thompson said. “And we will if we do what we’re supposed to do.”