BOSTON – Stephen Curry was demoralizing the Celtics when he was I decided to improvise. Having dodged a spin past Marcus Smart, who happens to be one of the most ferocious defenders in the NBA, Curry finds himself sizing up Robert Williams, a 6-foot-9 position whose sneakers are perhaps strewn with concrete.
Curry took a tough dribble, leaving Williams in his wake, before climbing off the field to sink a 12-foot pontoon that led to Golden State’s lead in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night.
It was a familiar yet new scene, the same but somewhat different. Curry has spent his career filling games with 3 equivalent pointers and amazing drives to the hoop. But now, at 34, after spending the past two seasons wandering the basketball wilderness with his teammates, he’s been busy organizing a renaissance.
It was his performance – 43 points and 10 rebounds on his left foot – that got the basketball fans excited before Game Five on Monday night in San Francisco. The series is tied 2-2.
“He wasn’t going to lose us,” said his teammate Draymond Green.
Aside from Curry’s relatively slight stature—at 6-foot-2, he’s a shrub in the NBA’s redwood forest—it can be difficult for normal humans to relate to. He is a highly trained athlete and the greatest shooter of all time. It has won two of the NBA Most Valuable Player Awards. The architect of an expanding entertainment empire, he plays golf with former President Barack Obama in his spare time.
And for five seasons, from 2014 to 2019, Curry sat at the top of the basketball world.
Few people become the best at anything, and victories can be elusive. Get stuck at the slowest exit streak. You deserve this job promotion. You want to be able to buy a home in this neighborhood as well. But Curry helped regular fans feel like they were winners on his side, even if they rooted his team to lose.
He also led Curry Golden State to five straight NBA Finals, won three championships, and rival fans would have been out early for matches just so they could watch him heat up. In Madison Square Garden, where the lights were low and the court was a stage, the MVP cheers were fitting for him. In Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, and cities with their own all-stars, roars and crowds, fantasies and ears – for him Arrival.
Along the way, he paid his teammates to turn basketball into a fine art. They shot accurately. They moved with the grace of ballerinas. And in a sport imbued with grandiose vanity and colossal salaries, they enjoyed passing on to the open man.
Then came Kevin Durant, with all his arms and legs and 25-foot jumps. After losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, Golden State successfully recruited Durant to sign up as a free agent. Was it a cry for help, or an acknowledgment that the team had room for improvement? Or are the rich getting richer?
“We’ve been the evil empire for a while,” former team boss Rick Welts said in a recent interview.
Of course, Durant was intimidated before he joined the Golden State. After he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, he called his mother, Wanda, “the real best player” in an emotional letter. In the end, the ruthlessness of the current era has turned that expression of humility into a meme, one that will soon turn against it: Between Durant and Carrey in the Golden State, who was the real best player?
That question—from social media trolls, TV personalities, and sports fans—was a dig at Durant, but its sharp edge hit Carey as well. Golden State turned out very well.
Durant has certainly been a force in back-to-back tournaments, the latter being a four-game sweep for the Cavaliers. There was a sense of dystopian inevitability about Golden State: Anything short of championship was a failure.
Then the dynasty collapsed. In the 2019 finals, Klay Thompson and Durant sustained serious injuries as the Toronto Raptors clinched their first title. Thompson sat the following season after knee surgery. Durant left for The Nets in free agency. Curry broke his left hand, and missed all but five games as he finished Golden State with the worst NBA record
Within months, the league’s most dominant team turned into a revamping project. To make matters worse, Thompson tore his Achilles tendon in an exercise before the start of last season, and Golden State was unable to make the playoffs again.
This season, nothing was guaranteed. Golden State has gone from indomitable to weak, a shattered version of its young self. But the team was not completely broken. Thompson’s return in January after a 941-day absence was celebrated as a victory rather than a small medical marvel. He shaved for a dip in his first match.
The Finals were a microcosm of Golden State’s long way back – a beautiful struggle. Splitting the first two games of the series in San Francisco, Golden State lost Game 3 in Boston, and Curry injured his left foot in the final minutes when Celtics’ Al Horford landed on him in a stampede for a loose ball.
Then, it was up to Thompson to offer some hope, saying he was “getting a lot of positive vibes in 2015”, referring to the 2015 Finals, when Golden State trailed the Cavaliers, 2-1, before plotting a comeback to win it all. , the first team in the Curry era.
More broadly, Thompson cited Golden State’s post-season experience as positive. He said that when he was younger, there were trap doors everywhere. Prone to getting nervous when falling behind in a series, he was likely to be very confident with his lead. Now, he was older but wiser.
“You can’t really relax until the last knock in the elimination match,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of qualifying – you have to deal with the unease until the job is done.”
Curry slept well after game three, he said, and kept his left foot in a bucket of ice whenever possible. The focus was on healing and repairing his aching body. (Steve Curry: Just like the rest of us.) He knew one thing for sure: He was going to play in Game 4.
Precisely 75 minutes before Friday’s opening tip, Curry showed up for his pre-game warm-up routine. Dressed in black, with the exception of the noticeable lavender-colored sneakers, he started five times throwing the ball. He then moved to the left elbow, raising a series of shots with his left hand, which was off his hand, and missed nine in a row to the delight of the hundreds of early-arrived Celtics fans.
But over the course of the next twenty minutes, something strange but not entirely unexpected happened: The crowd began grumbling in admiration and appreciation as Curry sank 136 of his 190 shots, including 46 of 72 three-pointers, some from inside a half-court. Fans broke their cell phones to record the moment for posterity. Children shouted for autographs.
“People think his shot is like Ken Griffy Jr.’s swing — it’s so beautiful that you think he never had to work on it,” Bob Myers, the team’s general manager, said in an interview during the regular season. But this is not true. When you look behind the curtain, you see work.”
Once upon a time, Curry’s exploits seemed magical – and they still are. But in recent seasons, as Golden State roams a wasteland of injury and uncertainty, Curry and his co-workers have revealed that success doesn’t happen by chance, and that it takes great effort and determination. Sure, they’re still basketball experts, but they’re scientists who showed the world their homework.
“Win, lose, whatever it is, however you play, you have to keep coming back to the well to keep honing your toolkit and finding ways to advance your game,” Curry said. “This is the hardest part of what we do.”
After helping force the Celtics into a late sales cycle that essentially wrapped up Friday’s win, Curry and Thompson celebrated Swinging their arms in unison. Thompson, who knows Curry best, said his teammate had never played a better match in the Finals. Carey was asked if he agreed with Thompson’s assessment.
“I don’t rank my performance, though,” he said. “Just win the match.”
At this point he knows what matters.