OAKLAND, Calif. -- For a special moment, Game 2 of the Western Conference finals relocated from Oracle Arena to a backyard court with a hoop in suburban Charlotte, N.C. Every player, save for two, suddenly disappeared as 19,595 witnesses were reduced by 19,593, with the remaining pair watching and pointing from the kitchen window.
Yes, late-1990s nostalgia intervened in a tight contest between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers. It was Curry vs. Curry all over again, an entertaining spectacle for their amused parents yet a tense one for their sons, Stephen and Seth, fiercely trying to take down the other.
Even if you weren’t there at the Curry household for those brotherhood battles back in the day, couldn’t you just envision how they developed, much as it did on a dramatic Thursday, two decades later on the other side of the country?
There was so much riding on those 1-on-1s then, such as a noogie for the loser, the last remaining cookie for the winner, and most certainly bragging rights, at least for the day. This time, the stakes were tame by comparison: just an ordinary game in mid-May that could dictate which brother eventually goes to The Finals and which one sits next to Dell and Sonya in the stands and watches. Nothing more or less.
“Yeah, sure,” laughed Seth. “Something like that.”
OK, perhaps this was huge after all. This was Stephen with 37 points and eight assists rallying the Warriors back from 17 points down in a 114-111 win, only to get push-back from his brother, who played the best game of his NBA career. This was Seth, younger by three years, getting 16 points and four steals in the game -- all four out of Steph's pocket -- to give the Blazers an unexpected lift. The performance earned enough confidence from coach Terry Stotts that he played the entire fourth quarter.
Seth was assigned to check Steph, and vice-versa, and it was a family issue played out before the basketball world. It was a thrilling one at that, because at one point you weren’t sure which Curry would get the best of the other.
“This was like the coolest experience I think I’ve ever had playing against him,” Stephen Curry said. “Every minute he was out there defensively, he was a pest. Made big shots in the fourth quarter. He was amazing tonight.”
Seth made all three of his shots in the fourth quarter, all of them 3-pointers, and a few in Steph’s mug. If he wasn’t the Blazers’ best option, at least he was an option, one that the Warriors -- and the other Curry -- had to respect.
He helped the Blazers cling to an eight-point lead with four minutes left ... until the expected happened and those early bragging rights were rudely snatched back.
Playing once again without the comfort of Kevin Durant, Steph shot and willed his team to victory and a 2-0 series lead, drawing a foul beyond the arc and draining three free throws to put the Warriors up two. Seth had one last answer, a 29-footer that temporarily regained the lead before the Warriors wore down Portland and won on Andre Iguodala's last-second strip of Damian Lillard.
In all, it was a must-see contest … and the game wasn’t too bad, either.
“I mean, they’re brothers,” Lillard said. “For me, having my own older brother, I know what it’s like to go against your brother and what it means. They both know there’s going to be conversations about this at some point when this series is over and they’re going to play like it.”
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there wasn’t much chatter between them; Seth said they were too involved in the game for that. Well, maybe just a touch:
“He tried to distract me at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and I knew I had to go back at him to stay focused on what I needed to do,” Stephen Curry said.
There was more of an urgency on Seth’s part to make this game and this drama happen. After his brother and Klay Thompson took turns dropping an avalanche of jumpers on the Blazers in Game 1, Portland needed a new strategy to defend the pick and roll. So they decided to trap constantly, and they needed agile players to do so. That meant less time for Enes Kanter and more time for others, including Seth.
I don’t take this for granted. I was confident I could be here, and now that I’m here, I will try to make the most of it."
Of course, there was another reason to play Seth for 29 minutes: Who else knows Stephen Curry better than him?
“I’ve seen every Warriors game and every Steph game for the past 10 years,” Seth Curry said. “I feel like I know some things he likes to do, but it wasn’t enough.”
That’s true. You can have all the scouting reports and, in this case, all the backyard hoop experience in the world. There’s only so much one can do against a two-time Kia MVP and widely-regarded as the best shooter ever.
Still, there were those four steals by Seth, two of them clean picks off Steph, whose crafty dribble makes him difficult to strip. Essentially, Seth was a problem Thursday -- and an irritating one.
“I felt like he was thinking where I was at times,” Seth Curry said. I was just trying to make it tough on him. He’s going to do what he does, but if you make him work a little more, make it tough on him, that’s all you can ask.”
Seth's had the harder road to this point. While Steph became a basketball icon, Seth kept bouncing between teams over five seasons. It took years for him to secure his big contract, all while fighting to carve a spot in the rotation (and finally getting the chance to do just that). A few years ago, Seth played for the Warriors’ G League team in Santa Cruz in the shadow of his brother, wondering when he’d get his chance to make his own path.
“I don’t take this for granted,” he said. “To get to this point and be a contributor, this is what I worked for all those years. I was confident I could be here, and now that I’m here, I will try to make the most of it. I always want the ball and try to be aggressive and tonight when I found the ball in my hands, I was locked in.”
This will give Stotts and the Blazers something to ponder as the series moves to Portland, where they’ll try to keep from becoming another piece of Warriors playoff roadkill. The chances are good, then, that Seth’s spot in rotation is safe.
“Every time we played them this season, Seth has played great and I think it has something to do with playing his brother,” Lillard said. “This time I thought he guarded Steph well, and Steph is always on the move, out there running around, coming off screens and just looking to shoot the ball. That’s what he does.”
There was one little detail that Lillard left out, one that Stephen Curry was too happy to provide:
“It worked out perfectly tonight: He played well and we won.”
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