For what Stephen Curry has lacked in pizzazz during these NBA Finals, he sure made up for in timing.
Three straight games of sub-MVP performance were enough to get people questioning, get them doubting. Maybe Curry isn’t as good as hyped and, by extension, neither are the Warriors. Maybe they’re not worthy of all the historical accolades and flowery praise. Maybe the 73-win medal goes straight into the dumpster.
Friday night those maybes got buried for all time, in a landslide of three-pointers, and the guy who plunged the detonator was exactly whom we should’ve expected all along.
“He’s Steph Curry,” coach Steve Kerr coach said after Curry scored 38 points in a 108-97 Game 4 pasting of the Cavaliers that left the Warriors one win shy of back-to-back NBA titles.
“He’s the MVP for a reason. He doesn’t have the size and the strength to dominate a game physically, so he has to dominate with his skill, and that’s not an easy thing to do because your shot sometimes isn’t going to go in. But he has a lot of faith in himself, and he trusts his shot and he just kept firing, and tonight they went in.”
He made us pay every time we made a mistake.
LeBron James, on Stephen Curry
Unless LeBron & Co. have something unprecedented up their sleeveless jerseys, this series is all but settled. Thirty-two teams in NBA Finals history have trailed 3-1, and none of them rode in championship parades.
The auguries are equally bleak for any team facing the Warriors, who are 10-0 in Games 5, 6 and 7 of a playoff series during this two-year run under Kerr.
What does that tell you? It tells you the Warriors eventually figure out how to jigger the matchups in their favor, and when they do out come the scalpels. It tells you their superior depth and conditioning asphyxiates other teams the longer a series wears on, that they don’t flinch in the hottest, brightest moments.
It tells you Oracle Arena, barring the biggest letdown since “The Hangover Part II,” will be the scene of a massive championship celebration Monday night.
10-0 Warriors record in Games 5, 6 and 7 of a playoff series under second-year Steve Kerr
“We can’t relax just because we’re going home and we’ve got a two-game cushion,” Klay Thompson said. “That team’s hungry over there, and they’ve got some all-time great players. …
“Realize that it could be the end, so everyone give it their all and just trust each other and do it with nine, 10 guys like we do every night. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Golden State’s task will be made more difficult if the NBA decides Draymond Green merits a one-game suspension for flailing his fist into LeBron James’ groin area following an altercation. (My take: It looks way worse in slow motion, but Green does have a recent history.)
Still, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with that vaunted depth and Curry back to his usual self.
He has to dominate with his skill, and that’s not an easy thing to do because your shot sometimes isn’t going to go in.
By usual self, I don’t mean physical. Watching Curry during the Finals, it should be obvious he’s a bit diminished. The MCL strain in Curry’s right knee has clearly robbed him of some of his quickness and explosiveness off the dribble.
When Curry is at full strength, Tristan Thompson cannot shadowbox him on the perimeter. When Curry is 100 percent, he doesn’t miss 6 of 9 attempts from inside the key and below the dotted semicircle. He doesn’t need to use a two-legged takeoff when driving the lane, nor does he get his shot blocked so easily by Kyrie Irving.
All of which we saw during Game 4.
This was more about the return of Curry’s peak mental form. The passive, not-quite-with-it imposter from Games 1-3 went away. He was back to his usual assertive self, seeking out his own scoring chances and firing away without remorse or regret at every glimpse of daylight.
Curry was back to his usual assertive self, seeking out his own scoring chances and firing away without remorse or regret at every glimpse of daylight.
It all works so splendidly when the shots go in. Curry went 7 of 13 from beyond the arc, accounting for a good chunk of the Warriors’ record 17 threes in a Finals game.
“We knew he was going to come out and be aggressive,” James said. “We made some mistakes and he made us pay for them. He made us pay every time we made a mistake.”
Those mistakes can also be self-inflicted. After Curry torched him for 11 points in the third quarter, Irving made the fatal error of trying to go mano a mano – the Cavaliers’ offense deteriorated into a series of ugly isolation plays. (The same trap ensnared Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.)
Why was everyone so quick to doubt? Well, it does follow the lifelong pattern. No matter how many MVP trophies are on Curry’s mantel, there will always be those who can’t get past his small, slight frame. So when Curry’s game hits a rough patch, they assume he used up his last magic bean.
This 38-point performance Friday, on the road, coupled with huge shots he made against Oklahoma City in that pivotal Game 6, also on the road, should make believers of even the deepest skeptics.
What’s wrong with Curry? Nothing a few swishes couldn’t fix.
GAME 5: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
▪ Monday: 6 p.m. at Oracle Arena in Oakland
▪ TV/radio: KFSN (channel 30.1)/KFIG (AM 940)