They don’t wear it, Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr. Each is grounded, given more to cracking a joke than cussing someone out. Each has a well-earned reputation as a well-mannered, thoughtful guy. But each hides, under the surface, a bubbling cauldron, a nasty streak—what used to be called the “red ass”—that comes out at peak moments of competition, of anger, of passion. Kerr cracks the occasional clipboard.
And so it was that after Steph Curry hit his seventh or eighth straight shot in the third quarter of what became a record-breaking 41-point Game 3 demolition of the Rockets, culminating a 96-hour stretch during which Curry’s 2 of 13 three-point shooting combined in Games 1 and 2 against Houston had been analyzed and massaged and hot taked to within an inch of his life, but had been silenced by Curry’s 35-point smackdown in response, that Curry took out his mouthpiece and yelled, ‘this is my (bleeping) house”, not that anyone could hear him amid the bedlam at Oracle Arena. Afterward, he said his mother, Sonya, had chided him and said he needed to wash out his mouth with soap. But while the outburst was profane (“Riley, I hope you weren’t watching,” fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson joked in the locker room, referring to Curry’s 5-year-old daughter), it wasn’t especially out of character.
Curry is a figurative killer on the floor, a destroyer of opponent worlds who wants to win, bad, and who wants to beat back the challenge that Houston, which won 65 games this season, the most in the league, and that hasn’t been shy about its dogged pursuit of the defending champions. You don’t win two league MVP awards by age 28 if you aren’t a competitive little cuss. It’s how Curry got back in five weeks from a Grade 2 MCL sprain of his left leg to return to the Warriors for their second-round win over New Orleans. It’s what keeps him from being embarrassed as the Rockets put him in endless screen and rolls, making him guard either James Harden or Chris Paul one on one. (He hasn’t done badly at all against them, even as the effort he’s had to put out on defense could well have sapped his legs offensively).
When he sat down before Game 3, he displayed no true concern about his knee or his shot—the knee having been worked out strenuously by the Warriors’ medical and training staffs, along with Kerr’s personal trainer, Brandon Payne, during Curry’s rehab. “I’m convinced he’s 100 percent,” Payne said Sunday morning. Curry convinced the rest of us a little later, using the derivative adverb form.
Me: So, totally removed from this: I heard you killed it when your team made its presentation to buy the Panthers.
Stephen Curry: That’s still kind of an ongoing process. Very eye opening process to be a part of.
Me: What was different in that process as opposed to coming at things as a player?
SC: I think just understanding the full scope of what the business side means. It was an opportunity to understand how to run a franchise—not to run a franchise—but the background, the details, all the different hands at play, especially when it comes to Charlotte, being the city that I grew up in. So understanding more so about how the community and the fan base, how it’s interacting with the organization, the upside of what that could mean down the road, obviously partnering with the NFL, how the NFL is growing from a fan and a game interaction type of standpoint, there’s a lot going on when you think about owning a franchise. Pretty educational experience.
Me: Do you get, almost, offended when someone asks you’re having a problem shooting or if something’s wrong after a bad game or two?
SC: That’s a strong word. I find it amusing, because, one, there’s nothing that anybody can ask me or tell me that I haven’t already been thinking about myself when it comes to how I’m playing, what I need to do better. The consistent thing is I’ll never lose confidence in myself when I’m out there on the floor. That’s why I shoot the shots that I do; that’s why I play the way that I play. Beyond that, it’s part of the game. And I have high expectations for myself, and I know I set lofty goals when it comes to shooting the basketball. And if I don’t meet that standard every night there’s going to be questions about why this, why that. We’re in the Western Conference finals. We have to play well for us to get to that next level.
Me: Houston’s got a really good defense, but while they have good size on the wings and especially with Clint Capela in the back, they’re not an overly long team. What do they do so well defensively?
SC: I think it’s just their switching. They try to interrupt your flow by putting a body at every interaction, every screen, between the ball, off the ball. It’s what we’ve done for years, where we try just to kill the flow. Not allow as many passes or ball movement. They have pretty good versatility. They may not be the longest group from top to bottom, but the versatility of having guys that can guard multiple positions, that helps them. They’re tough, and obviously, what Clint Capela can do in the paint, protecting the rim. I feel like it’s just one of those things where it’s a matter of whose will is going to win over the course of seven games.
Me: Does it feel weird that you guys did what you were supposed to do—win one on the road—and yet before Game 3 it was all gloom and doom because of what happened in Game 2?
SC: It’s probably two things. One, for us as a team, we haven’t been in the experience of being on the road to start a series. That dynamic is different. It’s kind of been our pattern, in most series we play in, we win the first two games at home, go on the road and split, and come back and win Game 5. So if you just reverse the pattern, we’re right where we want to be. It’s just a bad feeling to win Game 1 the way we did, how well we played, and Game 2 happens, they came out with force and we don’t answer it. It wasn’t like, from our standpoint, it wasn’t anything like the game plan or much different besides a couple of momentum plays where we gave them confidence and they took it and ran with it. A lot of guys played well. It’s a weird feeling but we know when we get back to locking in on both sides of the ball, paying attention to what they do well and try to stop it, play off of the home crowd, we should be in good shape.
Me: Are you at this time of the year communicating with Brandon (Payne) or the other guys on your personal team to see if they see anything, or do you say ‘I’ve got this; I don’t want to hear from you?’
SC: A little bit of both. I worked out with Brandon before we left on the road trip. For the most part, there’s noise all over the place. As long as I’m locked down with my guys here in the locker room and on the practice court, I should be in good shape. It’s rare that what I do has to fold into what we’re doing as a team. And obviously, the only other thing somebody’s gotta tell me is ‘you have to play better.’
Me: Did anybody do that?
SC: Oh, I’ve got plenty of people who do that, shoot it with me straight.
Me: Who are the ones you listen to?
SC: My wife, and probably my parents the most. ‘Cause they’re the ones at my house. (Laughs)
Me: Why is it that when your team struggles, it always shows up with turnovers? It’s not like you miss a bunch of free throws or play horrible defense; it’s always a bunch of turnovers.
SC: I think the story of Game 2 was the first quarter and the seven turnovers we had. They weren’t ones that were aggressive; they were all passive, being indecisive, rushing. That set the tone for how we played at the offensive end. We had a bunch of defensive breakdowns, but I think our morale was killed early; we didn’t have the right juice or mojo. I don’t know what it is about that specific part of the game. We try to involve a lot of ball movement, and there’s a lot of organized chaos in how we run our transition offense and stuff like that. But we have smart players who know how to take care of the ball. It’s just a bad habit to break, and you have to do it if you want to be great.
Me: Is Houston the biggest challenge to you in the West during this run?
SC: I mean, we were down 3-1 against the Thunder in the same series. Think about where we are right now at this point. It’s a different conversation because we started on the road, All the noise around Houston throughout the course of the season and being on a colliding path (with them) all year. There’s a lot built into hyping this series, and it should be.
Me: You’ve got this chance to repeat, you got relatively healthy as a team. Nobody’s repeated since Miami. On the list of things you can accomplish, does that have any bearing or impact?
SC: I think it does, because if we win it this year, that’s what that means. It’s something we’ve never done before. This is our second crack at it. Historically, throughout the years, I can’t remember the exact number, but I know it’s single digits how many teams have repeated in the league. We know how hard it is. We always talk about San Antonio, a team that won five of them but never two in a row. It’s totally different circumstances you have to overcome to win a championship one time, much less two in a row. We understand the moment. That’s how we got to this point. But, yeah, that means something. We know how hard it is, and it’s a challenge we haven’t accomplished.
I can’t remember the exact number, but I know it’s single digits how many teams have repeated in the league. We know how hard it is. We always talk about San Antonio, a team that won five of them but never two in a row.
Me: I’m trying to come up with the proper way to ask this. There was another school shooting Friday, this one in Houston. When you have to be locked in as much as you have to be this time of year, is it difficult to process your feelings about tragedies like that—because you have to be human. Do you allow that to impact you the way it would normally?
SC: That’s a great question. I’ve been in this situation, playing basketball. It’s my job. It’s what I love to do. In the grand scheme of life, win, lose or draw, it’s not the end of the world. When I get to the playoffs, I try to shut out as much as possible. This is a three-month period that means a lot to me and the people around me, and I want to be locked in during that time. But life doesn’t stop for us. When you hear about stories like the Santa Fe shooting, or any type of social unrest, you can’t be numb to it. You have to have that process of talking about it with your family. Everybody has a different way of dealing with those types of situations. To me, you want to be able to let life happen, but understand when it’s time to play, it doesn’t mean I can’t give every bit of my attention and effort or whatever to the court. But make sure that people who depend on me for that type of emotional support (after tragedy) that I’m available for them.
Me: The Rockets seem to be willing to live with KD isoed at the elbow. What’s the sweet spot between letting him attack and everybody touching the ball and the flow, because that’s what you guys do?
SC: We’ve done it before. I think it’s just a matter of not losing our identity because of how fast we’re playing, creating those possessions when the ball is moving from side to side and everybody’s touching it and being aggressive. What Houston did in Game 1 and Game 2 was Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, they got the ball in their hands and they made plays. We’ve got guys like that, as well—Andre (Iguodala), Klay, Draymond (Green), myself, Shaun (Livingston) as well. DWest coming off the bench. As long as we all get our touches and be aggressive, everybody’s looking to score, KD’s going to get his. I’m going to get mine, everybody’s going to get touches and the opportunity to make a play.
Me: So, if you get three simultaneous messages from Sonya Curry, Dell Curry and Ayesha Curry that you’re not playing that well, which one do you pay the most attention to?
SC: Oh, my wife, for sure. My wife, for sure. Because I would never, ever want to disappoint her. She’s supportive. She shoots it to me straight, that’s the amazing thing, whether I play well or not. I don’t get too big a head or too down on myself.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Was just playing 2k and was dribbling up the court with @isaiahthomas trying to direct pass it to myself and IT didn’t pass to me. I guess this game is real...— kuz (@kylekuzma) May 19, 2018
--Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma (@kylekuzma), Friday, 8:11 p.m., throwing IT sized shade at his (currently) Lakers teammate.
THEY SAID IT
"I really wanted to get up and leave at that point and demand a recount.”
--Mavericks Vice President of Basketball Operations Michael Finley,to the Dallas Morning News, after the Mavs fell from third to fifth in the upcoming Draft following last week’s Lottery.
“There are some things that you are going to have to give up to be a No. 1, No. 2 team in field-goal percentage defense. There is a sense of urgency on your closeouts where you are just taking people off the three-point line. There’s a sense of urgency of coming over to protect the rim. We were big in our “N.F.L.” And it was a no-layup mentality. You can figure out what the “F” meant.”
--New Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, on his defensive philosophies that he’s bringing from the 76ers, where he was an assistant coach under Brett Brown.
“We’re fulfilling our media obligations, and that’s it. That’s pretty much why we’re here.”
--Celtics Coach Brad Stevens, to reporters on Sunday who asked why his team was practicing after its blowout loss to the Cavaliers instead of just staying inside and watching film.
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