For a star athlete who so often presents as sweet, there is no one in the NBA as mean as Stephen Curry. As the Thunder learned in the final three games of their epic series against the Warriors, Curry is always ready to attack, to score and to embarrass. In this way, it’s surprising more old-school players don’t relish Curry’s reign. For all the complaints about modern players being friendly and nice to each other, more than any other current star Steph takes pleasure in sending opponents into a tailspin.
Curry’s grand finale in this high-amperage battle with Oklahoma City — a do-si-do with Andre Roberson 30 feet from the basket when the game was decided and there was time on the shot clock — was a perfect coda to the Warriors’ conquest of the West. The mix of handle and range, the mix of confidence and disrespect, the singular desire and ability to put an exclamation mark on every play: it was all there. The mundane has no place here.
In the spirit of that Stephian ideology, kudos to the Thunder for making this a series. More than that, OKC put Curry and the Warriors on the brink of apocalypse for the better part of a week. Every time in both Games 6 and 7 that Curry or his chill compadre Klay Thompson threatened to carry the Warriors away, the Thunder answered. Even Monday, after a furious Warriors run in the third gave the home team control, Kevin Durant flexed to bring OKC within four.
What the Thunder did to Golden State in the third and fourth games of the series cannot be dismissed. OKC had the defending champs reeling, drowning even. In the end, that subplot served only to heighten the drama of the games to come and to provide grist for another Warriors storybook.
The Thunder wrote their own tale, too, albeit one with a darker denouement. That ending will be digested and dissected all the way up to July 1, and beyond should Durant flee as a free agent. The focus on OKC’s failure over three painful games will obscure the macro view that a team led by Durant and Russell Westbrook pressed the Warriors harder than any other team in two years. That this bunch with Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter playing big roles, with Roberson and Steven Adams playing huge minutes, this team came within a brief moment of Warriors mortality from making the Finals.
Warriors mortality. How quaint. It’s easy to take for granted how loaded this team is (especially when Steve Kerr toys around and plays Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa and Mo Speights). What other team has the luxury to give Andre Iguodala — a legitimate All-Defense candidate if he played enough minutes — a spot start in a Game 7? What other team can turn to a shooter as deadly as Thompson in those rare moments when Curry’s jumper isn’t falling? Who has passers like Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and Iguodala alongside their high scorers? We joke at the organizational hubris that drips through franchisee Joe Lacob’s New York Times Magazine profile. But he’s only barely exaggerating. This is one of the most aesthetically righteous rosters ever dreamed.
Curry is not what makes this team work. You slot in a cromulent point guard (say, Shaun Livingston) in place of Curry and leave the rest of the team in place and the Warriors win 50. You add the greatest shooter ever — the sharpest dagger made human — and you have the best team ever. (You at least have that conversation. Four more wins and the conversation is real. Four more wins for a team with 85 of them in 99 games. It seems so trivial. Yet it almost wasn’t, and still may not be.)
Curry is the nice guy who compliments those he vanquished, drops cameos on his wife’s cooking show and smiles constantly. Curry is the mean-as-hell Spitfire who pirouettes on the graves of men he’s buried. There’s no dichotomy and there’s no duel between dual personalities. He is all these things, and all things.
Curry is the greatest player in the world, and the only true rival for that title — LeBron F. James, Esq. — is up next. Perhaps this month’s crucible portends more difficulty ahead for the Warriors. Perhaps LeBron and the healthier, deeper, more bombastic Cavaliers will flip the table on Curry and company. Or, perhaps this week’s triumph presages another parade through Oakland. Only time can tell.
For a spell, the Thunder made Curry look mortal and the Warriors look fallible. It took only time for Curry to make us believe that he’s not and they’re not. It’s up to LeBron and friends to break the faith again. The Cavaliers kept Curry from unleashing holy hell a year ago and it wasn’t enough. Betting on Cleveland keeping Curry under wraps again seems a fool’s bargain. But then, so did wagering on the Thunder to push Steph and the Warriors to their limits.
We see Steph on nights like Monday and think we know. We do not know; we only think we know. That ignorance makes this all so intriguing, so entertaining, so wonderful. That we’re here to watch Curry strut, LeBron ram, Klay snipe, Kyrie juke and Draymond flex is a blessing worth appreciating. How lucky we are to be alive right now.