Playoffs 2017: West First Round -- Warriors (1) vs. Blazers (8)
Stephen Curry is Stephen Curry when Golden State Warriors need him most
Down big in Game 3, with head coach Steve Kerr ailing and out, Curry rediscovers his scoring prowess at just the right time
PORTLAND, Ore. – Stephen Curry walked off the court Saturday night, through the tunnel under the Moda Center stands and toward the hallway leading to the Golden State locker room with the game ball, a prized possession briefly tucked away for sake keeping until handing it off to general manager Bob Myers with instructions to make sure the victory trophy got to coach Steve Kerr.
That was Curry’s other important delivery.
Game 3 against the Trail Blazers was the first. Not that he did it alone, because the late defense was again a key for the Warriors and contributions of unheralded Patrick McCaw and JaVale McGee plus Andre Iguodala were crucial for the second outing in a row.
But, yeah, he kind of did it alone.
Curry was Curry for the first time in the series when the Warriors needed him most, down 13 points as the third quarter began, down 16 nearly six minutes later, without the injured Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes, on the road, against an opponent that can pounce, and with Kerr said to be a few miles away at the hotel dealing with a possible relapse of the same illness that forced him to miss the first 43 games last season.
Golden State was being crushed by a cascading pile of medical reports. Plus there was the state of Curry himself, at 38.6 percent from the field the first two games in Oakland and the opening three quarters as the series moved north Saturday, including especially bad misses that indicated someone needing a search party to locate his shooting rhythm.
Then, the fourth quarter. Fourteen points to turn a 88-87 deficit into the 119-113 victory that moved the Warriors to a 3-0 series lead and in position to close out with a sweep Monday night at Moda Center. Five shots and three makes, including two of four behind the arc and the 25-footer with 49 seconds remaining that put the Trail Blazers away for good. Four assists against one turnover.
And then, the messenger service. The court to the tunnel, past the giant painting on a brick wall that welcomes people to Rip City, handing the game ball to Myers outside the locker room with instructions that it ends up with Kerr. Curry wanted Kerr to know the players had his back if this is a recurrence of the severe headaches and other issues that were the result of a leak of spinal fluid during back surgery, although the Warriors said before tipoff no determination had been made whether the latest illness was connected to past problems or simply the coach feeling sick.
It was just one quarter in what has otherwise been a postseason of Curry grinding gears on offense, except that that one quarter was the fourth, on the road, with aching bodies everywhere they looked and the Trail Blazers on the verge of stirring memories of how they pounced on the wounded Clippers a year ago in the same first round. So it wasn’t really just one quarter.
“Just had to stay aggressive, stay confident,” he said. “You always take shots that you feel you can make in the flow of the game and kind of live with the results and not get discouraged if you miss. My teammates have a lot confidence in me to make plays. Even down the stretch, in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter, a lot of voices were in my ears telling me to keep shooting and keep being aggressive. Basketball players, we all know that you can’t get too low, can’t get too high. That’s kind of my philosophy.”
The circumstances, though. This was not just another Curry playoff moment because this was not just any other situation.
“Yes,” Curry agreed, “but you’ve got to do it in the right way. You’ve got to do it in the scheme of how we’re going to be successful as a team. It’s not necessarily hero ball. It’s being aggressive and knowing the spot that you have you have you might need to force the issue. That might not be taking a shot. It could be trying to get your feet in the pain and being able to make a play, defensively trying to assert yourself. Whatever the game kind of calls for, being ready for those moments. Not only myself, but everybody, I think, that stepped foot on the floor felt the moment in their own way and took advantage of it. That’s how we came back.”
Mike Brown, subbing for Kerr, joked that Myers approached him at halftime to say the Warriors were thinking of replacing Brown with the other very experienced assistant, Ron Adams, with the Trail Blazers at 67 points and counting. They could all laugh about it later, once the potential of 2-1 with another road game ahead had become 3-0 and the chance to sweep. Golden State had pushed through several problems to take firm control. Golden State had at least one quarter of Stephen Curry as Stephen Curry again, when they needed him most.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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