It was, let’s just say, not Stephen Curry’s favorite postseason experience.
He was on the floor and playing in The 2016 Finals after suffering a Grade 1 MCL sprain during the first round of the playoffs and missing six games. But while he had some monster games after returning -- 40 points in his first game back against Portland; 36 points in the Game 7 clincher against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals -- Curry was not as successful against Cleveland, especially as the series ground down.
He shot just 40.3 percent overall, as the Cavs kept him from getting to the rim as he’d done for most of the last two seasons when teams tried to run him off the 3-point line. Curry’s struggles crested in Game 6, when LeBron James mean-mugged him after swatting his drive in the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, Curry fouled out after going just 8 of 20 from the floor, and picked up a technical foul for his trouble as he left the floor.
But some were still surprised when the two-time Kia MVP led the charge to get Kevin Durant in free agency, leading the Warriors’ recruitment of KD in the Hamptons last July. Curry wasn’t quite as dominant statistically in the regular season that followed after KD’s arrival, but those who focused on his numbers missed the point -- the Warriors were a more dominant team when all the pieces were in place and healthy.
And they’ve proven that further in the postseason, with a perfect 14-0 mark after Sunday’s dismantling of the Cavs gave Golden State a 2-0 Finals lead. And Curry has returned to being crazy good, posting his first career playoff triple-double Sunday, with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. That included a little get-back against James on Sunday.
“The Chef” was cooking again, halfway again to a second NBA title.
Me: Your team succeeded in the brightest moments in 2015. It did not succeed in 2016. Which one of those events gives you more urgency and confidence going into The Finals?
Stephen Curry: Actually, they both do, to be honest with you. It’s hard to separate the experiences of both, because they were both really impactful on our outlook going into this series. Obviously you know what it takes to win. You know what that feeling’s like, when everything clicks and you’re able to walk off the floor as champions. On the other hand, you know how important each possession is, each game is, trying to get to that point of what we went through last year. This being our third time around, having experienced both, playing against the same team, a lot of confidence throughout our locker room knowing what to expect, how we’re going to be successful, and just going out and having fun and enjoying this process. It’s an unbelievable feeling being back in The Finals and being on this stage, and we want to get it done.
Me: Would you have been disappointed if it wasn’t Cleveland?
SC: Not if we’re in The Finals, not at all. (Laughs) But obviously that’s the situation. We know how tough a task it is to win against them. It’s going to take everything we’ve got, and it obviously is a great storyline for all that’s happened the last 24 months. To be back here, within the ropes, against the same team, it’s going to be a crazy series.
Me: Your numbers across the board in the playoffs have been the best in your career -- points, percentage, efficiency. How much is the single-mindedness and focus you all have, and how much is individual matchups and being able to play off of a guy like KD?
SC: It’s all those factors. We have a great flow of what we’re doing every single night, great purpose about how we’re playing at both ends of the floor, really. I’m doing my part trying to lead that charge. I think as you look at the offensive end, we have so many playmakers. When we have a collective focus of how we’re supposed to play, things click. Obviously I’m going to make shots, KD’s going to make shots, Klay [Thompson]’s going to make shots, Draymond [Green]’s going to do what he does all over the floor, and we’re going to put ourselves in great position to win. I don’t really look at it like the individual production moreso than just when I’m out there. It seems this year we have such a great vibe about how we’re playing. And we want to keep that going over, hopefully, the next four wins.
Me: Whether or not he’s actually on the bench coaching during The Finals, how important is it for you to continue to still hear Steve’s voice -- at practice, in the film room?
SC: It’s big. He’s done a tremendous job establishing our identity, what it means to play Warriors’ basketball in this era. No matter if he’s on the bench or not, it’s refreshing to hear his input. We know he’s giving it to the coaches no matter if he’s here or not. And we get to see him fighting through what he’s fighting through, and just giving us what he’s got. He always has a joke for us. He always has some kind of adjustment or an idea that we can focus on when it comes to how we’re playing. Obviously in the conference finals against San Antonio, there was a time in the locker room when it happened; at halftime he spoke up and gave us something to focus on, and we came out firing away. So, it’s huge. Mike Brown has done a great job, and the whole staff has, filling in during his absence. But Coach is Coach, and we love when he’s around.
Me: It was said of Ali and Frazier that they weren’t just fighting for the heavyweight title; they were fighting for the championship of each other. And I wonder if you have that similar feeling here, knowing it’s the third time with the Cavs, the third time with LeBron, and these are the two best teams in basketball, and we have to figure out once and for all who the better team is?
SC: For sure. It’s the ultimate rubber match, right? There’s kind of no debate after this who the better team is, on this stage. Both teams, I know, are going to give it everything we’ve got. It’s an adrenaline-filled series that, as a basketball player, you come to training camp in October, this is what you dream about playing, on this stage ... you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do to be the last man standing.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Klay gonna get another ring and find his own squad. They better enjoy him while he there 😂— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) June 2, 2017
-- Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (@CJMcCollum), Thursday, 9:58 p.m., expressing the thoughts (hopes?) of many around the league that the Warriors’ Klay Thompson will ultimately leave Golden State being squeezed out of some shots in the Bay since Kevin Durant’s arrival. Thompson has two years (through 2018-19) and more than $36 million remaining on his existing contract.
THEY SAID IT
"Number one, I don't think you get to have a legacy unless you win a lot of championships. You're just another guy who owned a basketball team unless you actually win some championships. If we win some championships, then I want my legacy to be that we really led people into the new world of experiencing the game."
-- Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, during a question and answer session at the Recode Code Conference last week in California, and as quoted by USA Today. Ballmer was introducing new technology that Clippers fans will be able to access next season at Staples Center, using the existing cameras that provide the “deep data” analytics teams use, to provide real-time info on the type of play that was run and how the result of the play impacts the fan’s fantasy basketball stats.
“My father is a 7-foot tall, 400-pound police officer in Bosnia -- don’t mess with him. He tried to play basketball but they couldn’t find shoes for him. He’s a size 22. My agent saw him and went up to ask him if he had any kids and my dad said, ‘Yeah, I have one and he’s giving me trouble because I can’t find shoes for him.’ ”
-- Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, to SLAM Magazine, on how he was introduced to the game of basketball growing up.
“My father is arrested because of my outspoken criticism of the ruling party. He may get tortured for simply being my family member. For a second please think and imagine, if something like this is happening to an NBA player, what is happening to the people with no voice or podium to speak on?”
-- Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter, in a statement released on his website Friday, after his father, Mehmet, was arrested by the Turkish government in Istanbul. Enes Kanter has frequently criticized Turkish President Tayyip Ergodan; his father has said that the family has disowned Enes Kanter because of his political views.
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