HOUSTON (AP) – Dwight Howard’s head was down and a scowl replaced the smile that usually resides on his face.
Houston’s star center was angry and searching for a way to lead the Rockets after an ugly loss to Golden State has them facing a deficit in the Western Conference finals that no NBA team has ever overcome.
”There’s a lot of words I could say about tonight,” Howard said. ”But I’ve got to keep my teammates together. We can’t fold. We can’t quit because we’re down. It’s easy just to give up and say: `They’re playing great’ … but we ain’t going out like that.”
After Houston played well in two close losses to Golden State on the road, coach Kevin McHale expected a lot from the Rockets in Game 3 at home Saturday night.
Instead the Rockets fell in a gigantic hole early and couldn’t recover in a 115-80 loss that put the Warriors up 3-0 in the series.
”I was surprised that we didn’t come out with more,” he said. ”I thought we would come out with a little more juice.”
McHale was disappointed that his team was outrebounded 60-39 and that Golden State outscored the Rockets 58-42 in the paint.
”When we get beat in the boards and in the paint we seldom win against anybody,” McHale said.
Stephen Curry scored 40 points to lead the Warriors.
The Warriors won the first two games by just five points combined. There would be no such drama in this one, with Curry leading them to a 26-point advantage in the second quarter.
Now the baby-faced MVP has Golden State just one victory away from its first trip to the NBA Finals since winning the 1975 title. Game 4 is Monday night in Houston.
Curry was unstoppable, making seven 3-pointers to break the NBA record for most 3s in the playoffs in a season with 64.
MVP runner-up James Harden finished with 17 points behind 10-of-11 free-throw shooting, but made just 3 of 16 shots as the Rockets dropped three straight for the first time all season.
”We were too relaxed. We were too comfortable,” Harden said. ”Trying to come back, trying to fight. The fight wasn’t enough.”
Howard, who played despite a knee injury suffered in Game 1, had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Houston rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the conference semifinals to beat the Clippers and move on. No team in NBA history has won a series after falling behind 3-0.
”We just can’t quit on each other,” Howard said. ”We’ve come too far. We’ve been through too many battles to just allow it to end like tonight … we’ve just got to man up.”
Draymond Green and Klay Thompson added 17 points apiece for the Warriors.
Curry had 37 points after three quarters and went to the bench for good with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining after his seventh 3-pointer made it 103-73. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.
The Rockets have rebounded from double-digit deficits in three of their eight wins this postseason, but this time they fell into a hole way too big to overcome. Especially when Harden’s shots weren’t falling.
The Warriors were in control of this one from the start and were up by 12 at the end of the first. But things got out of hand quickly when Curry heated up.
A pair of free throws by Harden cut the lead to nine points with about 6 minutes left in the quarter when Curry took over. He scored the next six points as part of a 16-5 run where he scored all but two of the Warriors points to push the lead to 54-34.
Curry broke the record for 3s in the playoffs on a long one from the top of the key that put Golden State up 49-32 about 4 1/2 minutes before halftime. Reggie Miller set the previous mark of 58 in 2000.
He did a little bit of everything in that span. There was the finger roll layup, a bank shot, seven free throws and even a pair of rebounds to get Golden State rolling.
Houston couldn’t do anything right on either end of the court for most of the second quarter, and made just one field goal and missed six shots in the six minutes before halftime.
The Warriors led by 25 at halftime and Houston opened the third quarter strong, using a 13-6 spurt to get within 68-50. Thompson made a free throw after that before Curry took control once again, scoring the next five points, including a 3-pointer under heavy pressure, to push it to 75-50 midway through the third quarter.
Curry pumped his fist and screamed to no one in particular as several of his teammates raised three fingers in the air.
He wrapped up the third quarter in much the same way, scoring Golden State’s last five points, capped by a 3-pointer to make it 92-61 entering the fourth quarter.
Howard was the only positive for the Rockets in the first half and he had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Harden made just one of eight shots in the first half, but had eight points after making all six of his free throws.
Golden State led 62-37 at halftime.
The Warriors led 30-18 at the end of the first quarter behind 10 points from Andrew Bogut.
Howard had his 11th double-double this postseason, which is second this postseason to the 12 Blake Griffin had. Howard is averaging 14 rebounds a game in the postseason to lead the NBA.
Rockets: Houston’s 18 points in the first quarter and 37 points at halftime were playoff lows. … Harden leads the NBA this postseason by making at least 10 free throws in six games.
Warriors: Bogut finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. … Green had 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double this postseason.