The Rockets lost to the Warriors when they repeatedly failed to hold off Golden State during a key stretch of the games

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Ronald Martinez/Getty

  • The Houston Rockets had the Golden State Warriors up against the ropes in the Western Conference Finals, but couldn’t finish them off.
  • The third quarters, when the Warriors usually thrive, were of tremendous importance, as the Warriors outscored the Rockets in those frames by 68 points over the course of the series.
  • In a series decided by 63 total points, the Warriors’ third-quarter dominance played a huge part in their ability to withstand the Rockets’ biggest punches.

The Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets, 101-92, in Game 7 on Monday to advance to their fourth straight NBA Finals.

The Rockets had the Warriors up against the ropes, with a 3-2 lead after Game 5 and two chances to beat the Warriors, including the Game 7 in Houston.

And twice, Houston looked like they had every intention of doing so. In Game 6 in Oakland, sans Chris Paul, the Rockets raced out to a 17-point lead in the first quarter. They led by ten at halftime. The Warriors won the game.

In Game 7, the Rockets led by as much as 15 in the first half and led by 11 at halftime. The Warriors won the game.

What happened in both games – the Warriors’ third quarters.

There are several reasons the Rockets lost the series to the Warriors – they went cold from three when it mattered most, Chris Paul got injured and missed the final two games, they were exhausted from Mike D’Antoni’s short rotation and the taxing nature of defending the Warriors.

But chief among them was their inability to fend off the Warriors’ famed third-quarter attacks. A hallmark of great teams can be their execution in the third quarter, and the Warriors have become notorious for loafing through the first half, then blowing the doors off the building in the second half.

Over the seven-game Western Conference Finals, the Warriors outscored the Rockets by 68 points in third quarters. The Rockets outscored the Warriors by 31 points over the first halves of the series, and the Warriors won the series by 63 total points, a sign that those third quarters were of tremendous importance.

In Game 7, as the Rockets’ well dried up, the floodgates opened for the Warriors, namely for Stephen Curry. Curry has also become known for his third-quarter outbursts. He scored 14 of his 27 points in the third frame, as the Warriors outscored the Rockets 33-15. When the Warriors can get stops, get out on the fastbreak, and find Curry from deep, it’s as if the entire team opens up.

“It usually happens at some point during the game,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Curry’s eruptions. “But that’s ultimately what loosens the game up and what gets us going is Steph’s offense, and Steph’s high screens, and 3-point shots off those screens. For whatever reason, he seems to infuse us with energy.”

“I think he figures teams out a little bit more and he doesn’t have all that adrenaline running through him coming into the third,” Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser told The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson. “I feel like once he gets going, we start to run more stuff for him.”

Curry himself chalked it up to endurance.

But after a sloppy and shaky first half, there was undeniably a swagger to Curry and the Warriors once they heated up in the third quarter.

The Warriors’ big third quarters are also a hallmark of great coaching. Steve Kerr has said this team could coach itself – in fact, he once let them do just that – but in pivotal games, Kerr always has them ready to come out of halftime.

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni did an admirable job of getting his team ready and creating a style to make the Warriors uneasy. He got them as close as possible, but when the Warriors’ avalanche started, he usually didn’t have many answers.

The Rockets insisted after the series that they would have won if Paul was healthy for Games 6 and 7. That may be true, but they had chances to wrap up the series without him, and they couldn’t fend off the Warriors’ third-quarter attacks.

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