Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors Have Become NBA’s Kings of the 3rd Quarter

NEW YORK — For 24 minutes Monday night, the lottery-bound New York Knicks were able to hang with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. They even entered their Madison Square Garden locker room at halftime with a one-point lead, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Lance Thomas.

The Knicks and Warriors returned to the court 15 minutes later for the start of the third quarter—or more realistically, the beginning of the end for New York. Draymond Green kicked off Golden State’s scoring spree by banking in a three. Then Stephen Curry drilled a 26-footer, and Klay-Thompson splashed in a triple of his own. 

By the end of the third, the Warriors had pushed their lead out to 20 with a 39-18 period en route to a 125-111 victory over the drowning Knicks. The win lifted the Warriors to just a half game behind the top-seeded Houston Rockets in the Western Conference standings.

It also followed a familiar blueprint. The game represented the seventh time this season that the Warriors outscored their opponent by 20 points or more in the third quarter. This year, Golden State has outscored opponents in the third by a total of 330 points. For comparison, the second-best mark in the league is 164 and belongs to the Denver Nuggets.

And only three teams in the entire league have a total plus/minus of 330 over all four quarters for the entire season. That’s right: The Warriors are better in the third quarter alone than 27 teams are over 48 minutes. 

Their explosive offense in third quarters becomes even more lethal, their stingy defense even tighter, and the face of their franchise becomes even more dangerous.

Against the Knicks, Curry’s third-quarter dominance was on full display. He put up 14 points on five-of-nine (including three-of-five from deep) from the field, but a showing like this isn’t unique at this point.

For the second season in three years, Curry is leading the league in third-quarter scoring (9.9 points per game). Among players averaging at least 30 minutes per contest, he also has the top offensive rating, net rating and plays at the fasted pace during third periods.

On a more micro level, Curry seems to do his own best work coming out of halftime—and not just on offense. Throughout 2017-18, his own personal bests in points scored per quarter, as well as offensive rating, come in the third, but it’s his defensive rating that especially stands out. His 97.7 defensive rating is a significant jump from the 106.1 he’s posting for the year and is along the lines of what players such as Andre Roberson (96.4) and Rudy Gobert (99.3) have done this season.

After Monday’s game, Curry told reporters, "We wear teams down over the course of 48 minutes. It might take 24 to 26 minutes to really create the separation." 

That, according to Kerr, is the best explanation for the way the Warriors have been able to consistently blitz opponents coming out of the half.

"It’s not like we’re doing anything different. We wear teams down a little bit, we have a lot of talent," Kerr said. "If we move the move the ball, forcing a lot of defensive rotations and maybe by the third quarter, it starts to wear on teams." 

Third quarters, for Golden State, have come to symbolize exactly what it is that makes the Warriors so great: the ability to catch fire in a short span and, within just a few minutes, put games out of reach. Which is exactly why this trend should be so frightening for the rest of the league.

All season, Golden State, one of the greatest collections of talent professional sports has ever seen, has coasted. The Dubs have dropped 14 games this year after not losing more than 15 in any of the previous three. There are times when they’re sloppy with the ball or lazy with their cuts. They can be weak with their closeouts early and fall behind, only to erase all those mistakes with a smooth 12-minute burst.

Twelve minutes is all they need. That might not cut it come postseason time, but it serves as a nice reminder of just how dominant this team is, no matter where it winds up in the standings.

"When we’re locked in, taking care of the ball, playing solid defense at most possessions, there’s a point where we can break open the game," Curry said. "And that’s what happened tonight."

It will happen every night in the playoffs, too. Take these third quarters as further proof of the Warriors’ greatness and their standing as the heavy favorites to repeat as champions. 

      

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here and sign up for his newsletter here.

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February 26, 2018 at 10:27PM

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