OAKLAND, Calif. – Stephen Curry was amused by the panic from those who believed his ability to produce a steady stream of mind-boggling, six-second spectacles was beginning to fade away, right along with Vine. Curry deemed “comical” the rush to declare he was having a down year simply because he wasn’t able to duplicate – or surpass – what will go down as the greatest shooting season in NBA history.
Anyone who has been paying attention to Curry this postseason can see he isn’t consumed by empty-calorie records for 3-pointers or regular-season wins; he was storing up for a more rewarding finish. The Warriors have won their first 10 playoff games this season, following a 136-100 trouncing of the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, and Curry has been the catalyst to the dominance.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything differently,” Curry told The Vertical as he strolled through Oracle Arena, accepting handshakes and dap for another breathtaking performance. “It’s just the moment is bigger, the lights are brighter and the whole scene is catered around playing well right now, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Truth is, Steph didn’t Steph as much as he had in his previous two MVP seasons, and the Golden State Warriors weren’t always that can’t-miss fun bunch producing sleep-deprivation for East Coast dwellers. The novelty of a phenomenon will eventually dull and greatness can be taken for granted when it becomes routine. Curry and the Warriors have experienced some blowback and resentment for their success. But even as fans and critics alike demanded more, Curry always knew what he was capable of – even with another former MVP around, even if he dipped into the occasional shooting slump – and never forgot he was saving his showmanship for the real show.
Curry has been unfair to a Spurs team searching for answers after losing Leonard to an ankle injury Sunday in the first game of the Western Conference finals. In taking a 2-0 series lead, Curry has scored 69 points in just less than 70 minutes. He’s pulling up, expecting the ball to go in and backpedaling or sprinting back on defense before waiting to see his shots go splash.
And, as evidence of how healthy he is in comparison to where he was this time last season, Curry is making big men who step in front of him with the audacity to defend accept embarrassment as the consolation prize. After turning Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert into a spinning tap-dancer in the previous round, Curry made Spurs backup center DeWayne Dedmon immediately regret his attempt to help a trailing Patty Mills.
No crossover or dizzying dribbling display was required, only a hesitation that caused Desmond to slip, fall on his backside and reach in helplessly as Curry blew past him for an easy layup. This isn’t the Curry who struggled to get by Kevin Love in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. This is that unstoppable force made more dangerous with defenses now forced to pay attention to both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, even if the latter hasn’t been much more than a spectator this series.
“I don’t want to bring up injuries, but it helps to not miss time,” Curry told The Vertical. “In the grand scheme of things, if you can get a flow early, and you’re playing every night and you have the same expectation to be out there and help your team win, that’s like a snowball effect for sure.”
That snowball is now toppling everything in its path. Curry is having the kind of postseason he expected to accompany his unanimous MVP season of a year ago – before a sprained ankle and later a sprained knee in the first round against Houston left a diminished version unable to summon consistent heroics. Though the Spurs’ defense once gave him fits, Curry is probably more excited the Rockets weren’t Golden State’s opponent this round because he had to undergo concussion protocol after toppling Trevor Ariza and landing on his head when the teams met two years ago in the conference finals.
Durant’s presence has freed Curry from carrying too heavy of a load for the Warriors in the playoffs, but he certainly isn’t leaning on the newcomer to bail him out. Curry and Durant teamed up to lead the Warriors back from a 25-point deficit in Game 1, and Curry hit four 3-pointers while scoring 15 first-quarter points to remove all Spurs hope in Game 2. “To see him knock down those shots and play with that aggression, and it’s definitely better for us and better for the rest of the guys in the group as well,” Durant said. “So, you know, he’s shooting from two, three feet behind the 3-point line, man, that’s impressive. It’s definitely been fun to watch.
Curry can also credit Durant’s five-week absence for helping unleash the player with the game’s most intimidating jump shot. The Warriors were sputtering in the days that immediately followed Zaza Pachulia crashing into Durant’s knee. But coach Steve Kerr hit the reset button on the Warriors’ season when he rested his stars in San Antonio and let the Spurs spend a few days as the top seed in the West.
Since then, the Warriors have gone 25-1 and Steph has been Stephin’ again. He no longer had to defer or step aside to help Durant settle in. He got to take his corner back, and he hasn’t let up since Durant returned in the last week of the regular season. “This is playoff time, and if you’re not excited and don’t get that adrenaline rush and get locked into the moment, you’re going to miss out,” Curry said. “So thankfully I’m playing well, playing aggressive and confident, shots going in, trying to be locked in on every other aspect of the game, too. I hope I’d say that if I didn’t make shots. I’m just trying to do what I can to make sure I’m helping my team win and doing little things here and there on both ends of the floor, rebounding, trying to play-make, whatever the case may be. Just confident and aggressive and in a good rhythm and good flow. So just want to try to keep that going.”
If the Warriors win Game 3, they would match the record of the Los Angeles Lakers, who won their first 11 games in 1989 and 2001. Golden State could become the first team to enter the NBA Finals at 12-0 in the postseason. Curry and the Warriors were obsessed with perfection last season, fearlessly chasing down Michael Jordan’s seemingly untouchable record of 73 regular-season wins. But they’ve learned their lesson from obsessing. Curry shook his head repeatedly when asked about the Warriors’ desire to chance history once again.
“It’s pretty easy not to think about that, if you know what I mean,” Curry said, knowing that he didn’t have to mention last season’s Finals collapse that ushered in a wave of 3-1 jokes and endless what-ifs.
Curry and the Warriors have too much respect for the Spurs to overlook them, even with only three-fifths of San Antonio’s starting lineup available. Leonard almost single-handedly dismantled the Warriors in Game 1 and might return for Game 3. But who could blame coach Gregg Popovich if he decides to hold out his best player and franchise future from a series the Spurs would struggle to win with him? Though he might claim he hasn’t done anything differently, Curry has a fully formed beard that suggests at least his facial hair has changed from the classic goatee. But Curry doesn’t want his current run of 3-point fun and mixtape dribbling wizardry to be considered an unusual development during a season in which he likely surrendered winning another MVP trophy.
“I’ve had plenty of stretches in the season,” Curry told The Vertical. “It’s just nice to do it now and hopefully that continues.”
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