I have no idea how superstars fare during close-out games. The trope goes that the best players on the best teams usually play their best when the stakes are highest, when there's a sliver of hope left on the opposing team, and the door projected to shut painfully in their faces. Stephen Curry is the MVP, the best player in this year's NBA, on the best team, and was coming into a game where he could send his team home to rest before the Western Conference Finals.
Curry came out firing, crossing over on fastbreaks, through screens, flicking Marc Gasol and Kosta Koufos aside like they were toddlers instead of massive professional athletes. The game seemed over, but that would never happen to a proud team like the Memphis Grizzlies, gritting and grinding their way back to a one-point deficit. It was then that Stephen Curry, superstar during a close-out game, went back to work.
The Grizzlies started to inject a more stretched-out pick-and-roll defense, doubling Curry beyond the three-point line and it allowed two scoring possessions as Festus Ezeli rolled to the bucket for a dunk and a secondary pass got to Andre Iguodala for a three. And after that?
Perhaps the Shot of the Year, eclipsing what happened in New Orleans when Stephen Curry nailed the game-tying three while getting bombarded by three Pelicans. Iguodala smothered Jeff Green into a turnover (no foul call here but I'm certain the Warriors deserved one back after what transpired in that quarter) and the ball fell harmlessly to Stephen Curry. And we've seen the vine a million times now. Hell, it's sitting on a tab opened on another monitor, replaying over and over and over again in all its glory.
The craziest part wasn't that the ball went in. It was that Curry shot it like it was going to singe the nets upon impact. It wasn't so much a heave than a light flick of the wrist, something he admitted to practicing every single day. That's why it looked so easy, so smooth, and so Stephen Curry.
As if the Grizzlies hadn't had enough, Curry came back in early in the fourth quarter and drained three more three-pointers in a two-minute span, sticking the dagger in the Grizzlies and twisting it in Seppuku fashion. This is ostensibly what closers do and Stephen Curry has earned that respect.
The shot encapsulates the meaning of "this book writes itself." And perhaps these Golden State Warriors have something to say about that.
I know I'm extremely biased here — and I try to be as rational as I can in these instances — but the something special narrative is playing out in front of our eyes. They've taken down a nasty, young team with a Hall-of-Fame talent in Anthony Davis with a historic comeback to boot. In the next round, they met their match in the Memphis Grizzlies, got mashed into pieces in two games. Then in almost a movie-esque manner, picked up those pieces and constructed an answer that flummoxed the Grizzlies to the extent that they had nothing left in the final quarter.
Steve Kerr, the only rookie head coach left, made an adjustment only the smartest would, and admitted that he made a mistake. Draymond Green was tossed around by Zach Randolph in the first couple games but we haven't heard ZBo's name in nearly a week. Harrison Barnes punched his hand repeatedly in defiance of his passiveness last season. Shaun Livingston went to the rack fearlessly and without abandon. Andre Iguodala discovered his shot at a time when the Warriors needed him most, providing just enough spacing to play David Lee at the center position. Andrew Bogut was shifted into a floating rim-protecting role that best suited his strengths. The Warriors fell into place and in that manner, crushed the competition like it was the regular season.
There is hesitance to predict what is going to happen but the actual obstacles will never be less daunting. Whatever happens next, be it the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, or the Atlanta Hawks, one has the feeling that this six-game showing from the Warriors has assuaged all fears from a team that perhaps seemed too jumper-happy, too small, too playoff inexperienced, and ultimately too unknown. These Warriors are halfway to the finish line but it's starting to feel like the inevitable is upon us.