Through Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writer
BOSTON — cigar clenched between teeth, MVP trophy raised to heaven, title hat on his head, Stephen Curry pranced off the floor of the TD Garden, accomplished masterpiece and fourth-time NBA champion.
“This one sure hits differently,” he told reporters a few minutes later from the podium after the game. A champagne-soaked T-shirt was taped to his chest and plastic glasses rested on his chin. “Just knowing what the last three years have meant, what it’s been like, from injuries to the changing of the guard in the squads… it’s special.”
He tried to explain why. There was “the three years of baggage we took from that Game 6 in 2019” the night the Golden State Warriors, after losing both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant to serious injuries, played in the Finals against the Toronto Raptors fell. He mentioned the Warriors’ ambitious — and for some misguided — plan to provide “parallel timelines for young people’s development and core cohesion.” He reminded us that two years ago we “literally had the worst record in the league”.
And yet here was the Warriors – after a 103-90 win in Game 6 – and here was Curry – after leading the Warriors to that win with 34 points on just 21 shots, plus seven rebounds and seven assists to cap a masterful performance , which earned him his first Finals MVP – back to the top of the NBA.
“I can tell now,” he said, “I don’t know how many teams could pull through that as long as we have the expectations to now compare ourselves to teams of the past and make it back to the top of the mountain.”
It was a strange series, those finals. Both teams struggled to score goals. Defense ruled. The Boston Celtics were the bigger team — and often looked like the better ones, aside from all those moments when they fumbled the ball around the court, threw rainbows at the Warriors’ hands, and didn’t box out.
Despite all the talk of Curry’s skill, the Celtics have done an admirable job of slowing down the Warriors’ attack and even limiting them in halffield possession to the equivalent of a bottom five regular-season goal average cleaning the glass.
On the one hand, the difference came at the other end of the floor, where the Warriors were able to choke out the Celtics’ movers and shakers, turn off their drive-and-kick mixer, force an avalanche of turnovers, and then turn those turnovers into points to convert . Then again, there was a simpler thing that separated these two teams.
The Warriors had Steph Curry and the Celtics didn’t.
“He carried us,” said Draymond Green.
Curry’s final finals numbers — 31.2 points per game, six rebounds per game, five assists per game, 43.8% shots from deep and 48.2% shots overall — are remarkable. Just as remarkably, they don’t do his game and impact justice.
When Curry played, the Warriors thrived. When he sat down, they lashed out. His mere presence opens up all sorts of seams for his teammates, whether he’s dancing with the ball 35 feet from the basket or whizzing around a screen 35 feet from the ball. That’s why he can be credited with every point the Warriors score on the pitch.
You’d be hard pressed to find a dozen players in NBA history capable of influencing the offensive end of the floor more than Curry. This was seen during these finals at a level we had never seen before, despite Curry’s size, because the warriors once loaded had never required it before.
But these are not the ancient warriors. The talent level is decent, but the roster is far from stacked. Curry was the only player on the team to average more than 20 points in the playoffs. These Warriors are one of maybe three NBA champions not to have a second star in their prime.
“For me,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr after the win, “this is the culmination of an already incredible career.”
curry not to need this championship. His legacy has long been cemented. However, winning and securing his first Finals MVP makes conversations about his place in NBA history more interesting.
His résumé now includes four titles, more than Larry Bird and as many as LeBron or Shaq. But when you look at the four together and the role Curry has played on each of those teams, you get the full insight into his greatness.
There was the 2014-15 squad, where a new offensive system introduced by then-new head coach Steve Kerr unleashed Curry and transformed him into a megastar at the heart of a deep, egalitarian, never-ending attack from the Warriors. Think of it as Curry 2.0, a player freed from former head coach Mark Jackson’s ground and pound attack and finally free to shoot at will from any distance and at a speed never seen before.
This version of Curry was the heart and soul of everything the Warriors did – and the catalyst of their vaunted Death lineup – but he wasn’t their only weapon. During the 2014–15 season, he averaged “only” 23.8 points per game, while Thompson averaged 21.7 points and actually led the team in shots per game. Forget the presence of the still bouncy and lithe Andre Iguodala or the up-and-coming Green.
Curry 3.0 was the player who willingly ceded some of his shots and spotlight to Durant, and whose composure helped keep the ship calm amid some rough seas. Do you think a team with the personalities of Green and Durant could survive and win two rings if they didn’t have a leader as steady, composed, and drama-averse as Curry?
“From a human perspective, from a talent perspective, humility, confidence — that wonderful combination that just makes everyone want to win for them,” Kerr said.
This year – especially during this final run – we were introduced to Curry 4.0. The Warriors haven’t entirely ditched their Beautiful Game offensive attack, but they’ve been leaning on Curry to create more than ever. More pick and rolls from the top of the key. More dancing with the ball against Celtics Bigs. They didn’t do this because they wanted to — Kerr has made it clear over the years that he prefers not to call out for pick-and-rolls every time he hits the floor, but to watch the ball move across the court being pinged – but because they had to.
The Warriors realized this was their only way to win, and Curry, at age 34 and in his 13th NBA season, responded by essentially transforming himself into a better, more efficient version of James Harden.
The fact that Curry was able to lead the warriors to titles in each of those roles — the head of the dangerous serpent, the benevolent sidekick, the heliocentric star — makes him unique in every sense of the word, and why these warriors will do so today as one of the few Dynasties of the NBA to be remembered.
Russells Celtics, Magics Lakers, Jordans Bulls, Kobes Lakers, Duncans Spurs – and now Currys Warriors. This is the list.
“Without him,” said Kerr, “none of this would work.”
About an hour later, with media obligations finally fulfilled and the last bottle of champagne bursting, Curry marched through the bowels of TD Garden, MVP trophy still in hand, championship hat still on, glasses still on around the eyes.
“I’m freezing,” he yelled, his champagne-soaked shirt dried, a smile spreading across his face. He headed for the exit. His teammates – and another championship celebration – awaited him.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and author of Fueling up to the top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest trial in professional sports history. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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