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Stephen Curry is more human and brilliant than ever

by YAR

Follow our live coverage of the NBA Finals 2022 between Golden State and Boston Celtics.

BOSTON — Stephen Curry was demoralizing the Celtics when decided to improvise. After dribbling past Marcus Smart, who happens to be one of the fiercest defenders in the NBA, Curry found himself sizing up Robert Williams, a 6-foot-9 center whose shoes might as well have been filled with concrete.

Curry dribbled hard, leaving Williams in his wake, before getting up off the court to sink a 12-foot float that extended Golden State’s lead in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night.

It was a scene that felt familiar yet new, the same but somehow different. Curry has spent his career filling games with parabolic 3-pointers and dazzling drives to the rim. But now, at 34, having spent the past two seasons wandering the basketball wilderness with his teammates, he’s been busy staging a revival.

And it was his performance (43 points and 10 rebounds on a sore left foot) that had basketball fans buzzing ahead of Game 5 on Monday night in San Francisco. The series is tied, 2-2.

“He wasn’t going to let us lose,” teammate Draymond Green said.

Aside from Curry’s relatively small stature (6-foot-2, he’s a bush in the NBA’s redwood forest), he can be difficult for ordinary humans to relate to. He is a highly trained athlete and the best marksman that ever lived. He has won two NBA Most Valuable Player awards. The architect of a sprawling entertainment empire, he golfs with former President Barack Obama in his spare time.

And for five seasons, from 2014 to 2019, Curry sat on top of the basketball world.

Few people get to be the best at anything, and victories can seem elusive. You get stuck on the slowest payline. You deserved that promotion at work. You also want to be able to buy a house in that neighborhood. But Curry helped make the common masses feel like winners around him, even if they rooted for his team to lose.

As Curry led Golden State to five straight NBA Finals appearances, winning three championships, opposing fans would show up early for games just to watch him warm up. At Madison Square Garden, where the lights are low and the court is a stage, the MVP chants went to him. In Los Angeles, in Houston, in Philadelphia and in Miami, cities with their own All-Stars, the roars and the crowds, the oohs and the aahs, trumpeted its arrival.

Along the way, he pushed his teammates to make basketball a great art. They shot accurately. They moved with the grace of ballet dancers. And in a sport saturated with oversized egos and huge paychecks, they enjoyed moving on to the open man.

And then came Kevin Durant, all arms and legs and 25-foot jumpers. After losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, Golden State successfully recruited Durant to sign as a free agent. Was it a cry for help, an acknowledgment that the team had room to improve? Or were the rich getting richer?

“We were the evil empire for a while,” former team president Rick Welts said in a recent interview.

Durant, of course, was fearsome before he joined Golden State. After being named the league’s MVP in 2014, he described his mother, Wanda, as the “true MVP” in an emotional speech. The callousness of the current era finally turned that expression of humility into a meme, one that would soon backfire: Between Durant and Curry in Golden State, who was the real MVP?

That question, from social media trolls, TV personalities and sports fans, was a jab at Durant, but its edge also hurt Curry. Golden State had gotten too good.

Sure enough, Durant was a force in back-to-back championships, the latter a four-game sweep of the Cavaliers. There was a sense of joyless inevitability in Golden State: Anything short of a championship was a failure.

And then the dynasty collapsed. In the 2019 Finals, Klay Thompson and Durant suffered serious injuries when the Toronto Raptors staged an upset to win their first title. Thompson sat out the next season after knee surgery. Durant went to the Nets in free agency. And Curry broke his left hand, missing all but five games as Golden State finished with the worst record in the NBA.

In a matter of months, the most dominant team in the league was transformed into a renovation project. To make matters worse, Thompson tore his Achilles tendon in practice before the start of last season, and Golden State failed to make the playoffs again.

This season, nothing was guaranteed. Golden State had gone from indomitable to vulnerable, a battered version of its younger self. But the team was not totally broken. Thompson’s return in January after a 941-day absence was celebrated as a triumph and no small medical wonder. He went up for a dunk in his first game.

The finals have been a microcosm of Golden State’s long road back: a beautiful fight. After 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 the Celtics’ Al Horford landed on him in a fumble fight.

Thompson was subsequently left to offer some hope, saying he was “getting great 2015 vibes,” a reference to the 2015 Finals, when Golden State trailed the Cavaliers, 2-1, before engineering a comeback to win it. all. the team’s first of the Curry era.

More generally, Thompson cited Golden State’s postseason experience as a positive. When he was younger, he told him, there were hatches everywhere. Prone to feeling anxious when he trails in a series, it was likely that he was overconfident with an advantage. Now he was older but wiser.

“You can’t really relax until the final buzzer of the closing game rings,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of the playoffs: You have to deal with the awkwardness until the mission is complete.”

Curry slept well after Game 3, he said, and kept his left foot in an ice bucket whenever possible. The emphasis was on recovery and repair of his aching body. (Steph Curry: Just like us.) He only knew one thing for sure: he was going to play in Game 4.

Precisely 75 minutes before Friday’s opening forecast, Curry showed up for his pregame warm-up routine. Dressed in black, with the notable exception of lavender sneakers, he began by making five layups. He then moved to the left elbow, where he fired a series of left-handed shots, which is his left hand, and missed nine in a row to the delight of hundreds of early-arriving Celtics fans.

But over the next 20 minutes, something strange but not entirely unexpected happened: The crowd began to murmur in admiration and appreciation as Curry made 136 of 190 shots, including 46 of 72 3-pointers, some of them from inside half court. . Fans pulled out their cell phones to record the moment for posterity. Children clamored for autographs.

“People think his shot is like Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing, it’s so nice you think he never has to work on it,” the team’s general manager Bob Myers said in an interview during the regular season. “But that is anything but true. When you look behind the curtain, you see the work.”

Once upon a time, Curry’s exploits seemed magical, and they still are. But in recent seasons, as Golden State wandered through a wasteland of injury and uncertainty, Curry and his teammates revealed that success doesn’t happen by accident, that it takes hard work and determination. Sure, they’re still basketball wise men, but they’re wise men who have shown the world their homework.

“Win, lose, whatever it is, play how you play, you have to keep going back to the pot to keep sharpening the toolset and finding ways to evolve your game,” Curry said. “That’s the hardest part of what we do.”

After helping force the Celtics into a late turnover that essentially sealed Friday’s victory, Curry and Thompson celebrated with moving arms in unison. Thompson, who knows Curry better than most, said his teammate had never played a better game in the Finals. Curry was asked if he agreed with Thompson’s assessment.

“However, I do not classify my performances,” he said. “He just wins the game.”

At this stage, he knows what matters.

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