November 29, 2022

I don’t know where Stephen Curry’s 43-point, 10-rebound performance in Golden State’s heart-attack Game 4 victory ranks among the all-time Finals games. I’m not old enough to have seen enough. But I’ve seen a lot, and what Curry just did to the Boston Celtics is somewhere pretty high up on the list. That was jaw-dropping. 

Let’s get the basic info out of the way: Warriors 107, Celtics 97. Series tied 2-2. Game 5 is set for Monday in San Francisco. Get your freaking popcorn. 

Now, back to Curry, who has rediscovered his old magic in the nick of time, turning the worst shooting season of his career, and perhaps of his life, into a distant memory by hitting 43 percent of his 3-pointers in the conference finals versus Dallas before full-blown detonating against Boston. 

Through four games in these Finals, Curry is shooting 49 percent from 3. He banged seven triples on Friday, and the Warriors were in desperate need of every one of them. 

Klay Thompson called it perhaps the greatest Finals performance he’s seen from Curry, and don’t let the ridiculous narrative that Curry somehow hasn’t played great in the Finals over his career enter your head for a second. He’s had a historic Finals career, to be frank. 

Curry scored 47 points in the 2019 Game 3 loss to Toronto, which had damn near as great a defense as these Celtics. In that game, without Thompson and Kevin Durant active, the Warriors were forced to start Shaun Livingston and an all-but-washed-up DeMarcus Cousins while playing Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie over 44 minutes. Curry was getting chased around by Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry without a single other threat on the court to divert anyone’s attention and he was still raining fire. 

Curry’s averaging just under 27 points per game in his Finals career. That’s 10th best all-time, better than a few guys named Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, some dude named Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Dirk Nowitzki, Elgin Baylor, Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce, just to name some randoms. 

So, yeah, he’s been pretty great on the biggest stage. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But I’ll take it a step further. This isn’t just the best Finals performance of Curry’s career, it’s his best postseason performance period. And again, that’s not a knock on Curry’s playoff resume, which is littered with gems.

  • I’ll never forget the 44 points he put on San Antonio in 2013, his first playoff run. 
  • In the 2016 Finals, he had 38 and six assists in Game 4 against Cleveland to give Golden State a 3-1 lead. 
  • In the 2015 Finals, he carded 38 vs. the Cavs to break a 2-2 series tie in Game 5. 
  • In the 2016 conference semis he hung 40, including a record 17 in overtime, on the Blazers in his first game back after suffering a sprained MCL in the first round. 
  • In the 2019 conference semis, he put 33 on the Rockets in Game 6 … in the second half
  • He ended Durant’s OKC career with 38 and nine assists in Game 7 of the 2016 conference finals. 

Given the stakes and opponent, none of these match up to what Curry did on Friday with everything on the line. Had the Warriors gone down 3-1, this thing was over. Now you could argue Golden State has the edge again. 

“I mean, this was nearly a must-win game, and to go out there and shoot as efficiently as he did, and grab 10 rebounds, and they were attacking him on defense; I mean, his conditioning is second-to-none in this league,” Thompson said of Curry. “Steph played incredible.”

Golden State has nowhere else to turn for offense right now. That’s what makes Curry’s dominance in Game 4 — and throughout this series for that matter — so incredible. This is an all-time great Boston defense that is sending the sink at Curry. He’s had to go almost entirely to pick-and-roll and DHO because of Boston’s off-ball switching, and he’s throwing in one video-game dagger after another with multiple elite defenders draped all over him. 

Honestly, look at some of those shots. The man went glass for a 22-foot wing jumper to open the second half just for fun. It’s crazy how hard that shot is in your backyard. But when every bucket feels like life or death in the NBA Finals? That’s laughable how easy he made that look. 

“Just stunning,” Steve Kerr said of Curry’s performance. “The physicality out there is, you know, pretty dramatic. I mean, Boston’s got obviously, best defense in the league. Huge and powerful at every position, and for Steph to take that — that kind of pressure all game long and still be able to defend at the other end when they are coming at him shows you, I think this is the strongest physically he’s ever been in his career, and it’s allowing him to do what he’s doing.”

Curry’s strength and conditioning deserve their own story. But right now we’re talking shooting, and this is old Curry. We didn’t see this guy very much this season. He was still terrific by anyone else’s standards. Had a case for first-team All-NBA. But at no point this season did he shoot anywhere close to this level for an extended period of time. 

And again, this is a necessity for the Warriors. The Celtics are a better team. They’re bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic. They have a stable of shooters. They have two elite scorers who also pass like crazy. They have one of the best defenses ever. Literally, the only advantage the Warriors have in this series is Curry, who has embraced that burden and on Friday lifted his team to a victory that at various points seemed almost impossible. 

“The heart on that man is incredible,” Thompson said of Curry.  “You know, the things he does we kind of take for granted from time to time, but to go out there and put us on his back, I mean, we got to help him out on Monday.”

Thompson is right. Curry is otherworldly, but how long can he keep this up? He’s already the only player in history to make at least five 3-pointers in four straight Finals games. He’s already become the third point guard in history to post 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Finals game, joining Magic Johnson and Jerry West. It’s hard to see the Warriors winning this series if Draymond Green at a bare minimum, doesn’t start playing significantly better moving forward. 

Green is borderline unplayable right now. Kerr actually had the nerve to sit him at various points in the fourth quarter on Friday. Klay, though he has hit a handful of CPR shots when the Warriors seemed like they were about to get laid to rest, just has not been able to find his shot consistently, and when he goes off the dribble it’s hold-your-breath stuff. 

God bless Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins. Those dudes are playing extraordinarily well. Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II are both doing foxhole work. Nemanja Bjelica has given some huge minutes and his defense has held up surprisingly well. But right now, this is all about Curry. Whether or not the Warriors win this title, this performance is cementing his all-time status. If the Warriors do win it all, that stupid Finals MVP narrative can go to the landfill where it belongs. No other Warrior has a shot in hell at that hardware. 

But that’s a long way off. This is a three-game series now, and those three games are going to be a war. Golden State, which has now won at least one road game in 27 straight playoff series — kind of a mind-blowing stat — has taken back the homecourt advantage, but Boston has been phenomenal on the road in these playoffs. I picked the Celtics to win in seven. I’m sticking with that because they’re the better team. But what Curry is doing just isn’t human, so in reality, all bets are off. 

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