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January 21, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry didn’t score in the fourth quarter. He finished with a barely mind-boggling 29 points from 21 attempts. Ditto for his six rebounds and four assists – not spectacular on paper.

So in a few years, maybe a few months, depending on how the 2022 NBA Finals unfolds, some will be piling this effort onto the pile of all of Curry’s other unimpressive, unbridled, not-so-important performances on this big stage. . This one will also fade into obscurity as critics, talking heads and social media haters seek a particular kind of dominance while suggesting that Curry doesn’t have great Finals matches, doesn’t show up in moments. reviews and is supported. by a system and a loaded list. This only counts if he scores 50 points and hits the game-winner to lift a G Leaguers roster over a star-laden opponent in a Game 7.

But don’t forget what you saw. A maestro directing a familiar piece. Game 2 was, for sure, a snapshot of Curry’s dominance. Just like Game 5 in 2015. Game 4 in 2016. Game 5 in 2019. Game 2 in 2017. Sunday’s final score, a 107-88 victory in which the home side were leading by 29, will give the impression that the Warriors were not in danger. But, oh, they were.

And in one quarter, Curry’s quarter, he changed the game and quite possibly the final. On Sunday, when the Warriors looked most vulnerable against a Celtics side that sometimes feels destined to be crowned, they put the ball back in the hands of their superstar.

“I thought he was amazing,” Draymond Green said. “And most importantly, his decision making was excellent. He got off the ball. He did not ride in traffic. He took what the defense gave him. I think for the first six minutes or so of that game he had no points. He didn’t force anything. Let the game come to him and, you know, we all went with that.

It wasn’t that Curry was hot. It was an orchestrated dismantling. In the first game, Curry came out shooting. He scored 21 points in the first quarter of the game as Boston played like they didn’t get the memo. But the Celtics tightened up, limiting Curry to 13 points the rest of the way. In Game 2, Curry had 15 points on 12 shots in the first half as he downloaded the scheme and picked his spots. Curry’s initial inclination was to use his gravity to make the attack click. But his scoring cohorts were overwhelmed by Boston’s defense.

At halftime, the Warriors led 52-50 after scoring just 21 points in the second quarter. Klay Thompson had missed all four of his 3s and was 1 for 8 from the field. On a few of his attempts, the ball came out of his hands like a shuttlecock. Jordan Poole was 1 of 5 and still struggled against the physicality and rim protection of the Celtics. His frustration was becoming palpable. Wiggins finally had a few shots in the second quarter, but he shot 4 for 10, including a few wasted layups.

It felt like, it felt like, the Celtics had the Warriors where they wanted them. Boston was 10 of 16 deep, its defense was mostly solid, and the Warriors lacked answers. After destroying Golden State in the fourth quarter on Thursday to steal Game 1, the Celtics’ confidence was peaking – which boded well for their chances in a close game. The jitters were undeniable as the Warriors headed Massachusetts down an 0-2 hole.

The only hope to change that was Curry. The only way to take Boston’s confidence and reconfigure the tenor of this series was a Warriors carded third quarter, a staple of the Curry era since 2013 when he scored 22 against Denver in the third quarter of Game 4. to Oracle in the first round of the playoffs. On Sunday, he scored 14 third-quarter points as Golden State edged the visitors by 21 and maybe – perhaps – planted a seed of doubt in the Celtics.

He felt it was his time, and he imposed himself.

“It’s a buildup of the last two years trying to figure that out and balance…scoring load, game load and whatever else you’re trying to accomplish throughout the game,” Curry said. “So I try to be in control, composed, see the game, feel the flow and the rhythm and know where I can get to my spots. There’s definitely a lot of calm there.

The Warriors needed him. It’s well documented how willing Curry is to use his gravity to power the Warriors’ offense. He hosted other superstars, sacrificed shots and even came off the bench in the playoffs. Winning is his priority. Sunday, it forced him to take over.

The Celtics’ combination of perimeter protection and shot blocking was too intimidating for their usual Democratic offense. Curry is the only point guard the Warriors have to turn Boston’s defense. So Golden State unleashed their guy.

Curry had 12 pick-and-rolls in Game 1, according to Synergy Sports. He also finished with 12 in Game 2, except he did it in three quarters. He ran six in the third quarter alone. But even that understates how well Curry had the ball in his hands. His combination of pick-and-rolls, transitions and isolations totaled about 12 let-Curry-cook possessions in the third quarter.

A two-minute, four-second streak illustrated the fullness of Curry’s game. The score. Selflessness. Defense. Flair.

It started with a pick-and-roll that drew a double team and set up two assists that led to an Otto Porter Jr. 3. The Warriors led 71-62.

On the ensuing possession, Al Horford grabbed an offensive rebound off Curry and immediately tried to post the Warriors point guard. But Curry held on. When Porter came to offer help, Curry read Horford’s next move, jumped the passing lane, and came with the flight. The ensuing break led to a pair of green free throws to make it 73-62.

Next time out, after the Warriors deflected a Tatum miss out of bounds, Curry was isolated on Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. Excellent defending on the ball squeezed Pritchard and forced him to pass the ball. White traveled on the catch-and-shoot, and Curry made Boston call with a 3 off the top of a pick-and-roll with Gary Payton II. It was 76-62 Warriors.

On the next possession, Curry cut drives from Pritchard and Grant Williams in the same possession and interrupted an inside pass with a deflection. Moments later, he got another Warriors save by chasing down the long rebound. He raced up the field, ran around a Porter screen and stopped from 30 feet as Boston center Daniel Theis backtracked. It was 79-62.

An 11-0 run, powered by Curry at both ends.

“Yeah, Steph was breathtaking in that quarter,” said Steve Kerr.

“People are going to him to try and wear him down because they know how important he is to us offensively,” Kerr said, “and it’s quite dramatic the difference in strength and physicality that Steph has in his game. body now compared to eight years ago when I started Going there. So the guy is amazing. He continues to work on his game, his strength, his fitness year after year, and it’s a pleasure to see him play every night.

But in typical Curry fashion, getting unstuck did the same for his teammates. As the quarter closed, Poole seized on Curry’s approach. Once Curry exposed the Celtics’ underbelly, Poole had the plan. He ran the pick-and-roll in back-to-back possessions, getting a layup from Kevon Looney and a 3 down on them. He punctuated the dominating quarterback with a buzzer-beater from just over half the field. It was a welcome sight for the Warriors, who need Poole as a second point guard against the Celtics’ vaunted defense.

What doesn’t translate into box scores, or debates on talk shows and Twitter, is context. The mainstream conversations of comparisons and rankings, mostly meaningless on their own, have a way of summing up B-roll brilliance. Unique greatness can get lost, and certainly underestimated, in the quest for cookie-cutter kings.

But Chase Center experienced it. The intensity of the stress for the faithful of Golden State. The relief of Curry doing what Curry does. The Celtics were two good quarterbacks away from putting the Warriors in a stalemate unlike the one they had.

Curry may have to do it multiple times to pass Boston. Adjustments are coming. The Celtics, who can swing between masterful and mediocre and played like a team that got the one win they wanted, are going to come stronger in Boston. But they have to, mostly because Curry made another run in the third quarter and breathed life into the Warriors.

When people try to say he was never great in the finals, remember what you saw.

Related Reading

Weiss: The Celtics are victims of another stagnant third quarter
King: Celtics jostled by aggressive Warriors
Kawakami: How the Warriors tweaked their strategy for Game 2
Vardo: Draymond Green was close to ejection, then the Celtics stopped him

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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