With the Golden State Warriors down 2-1 entering Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals, I considered the remainder of the series to be Stephen Curry's burden.
It was up to him to do everything for the Golden State Warriors akin to what LeBron James was forced to on the other side of the court. There needed to be a consistent splitting of the double, more step-back contested 30-footers, more twisting floaters, and more screaming celebrations. The 2015 NBA Finals' best player was LeBron James but Stephen Curry was the key to every aspect of the game on both sides.
I was wrong.
On Thursday night, with their backs against the wall, the rest of the Warriors stepped up and pulled Curry along for the ride.
There was Steve Kerr pulling Andrew Bogut from the starting lineup at the last possible moment, inserting Andre Iguodala to guard LeBron James from the jump and Draymond Green at the 5. There was Iguodala taking James out of his consistently strong starts and nailing a couple threes himself. There was Harrison Barnes pulling down rebounds in a first quarter that reminded us of how great this team can be. There was Shaun Livingston erasing Matthew Dellevadova from existence. Klay Thompson destroyed J.R. Smith on offense to the point where Smith missed three open threes near the end of the third quarter. David Lee was much better than Bogut and Festus Ezeli on offense. Draymond Green talked trash and strutted around like that one guy, Draymond Green.
Defensively, Livingston and Thompson ran quick doubles in the first half at LeBron while racing back on their man contesting the jumper. Iguodala and Green pushed the ball in transition the moment they grabbed a rebound or even on made shots. Barnes nailed two threes that alleviated much of the concerns coming form his struggles. The key moment came when he canned one after a timeout when the Cavs closed in to a 65-62 deficit.
The Warriors' celebrated depth fell apart. There was no Festus Ezeli and very little Leandro Barbosa or Andrew Bogut. Marreese Speights only played in garbage time. They ran with seven guys. And it wore the Cleveland Cavaliers down to a pulp by the fourth quarter.
Stephen Curry was again up and down and up all at the same time. There were bad turnovers, lots of time spent passing the ball after doubles and spent possessions on end away from the ball as the lead was slowly cut. Then the step-back threes happened, the no-look transition passes, and the floater into a roar. Vintage Curry. But this win was about the MVP's teammates, about a cast of players that he has been carrying the entire season coming to buoy the Warriors as they neared an unimaginable 1-3 deficit against an undermanned Cavaliers team.
Now the series shifts back to Oakland, a place lately resembling a crushing garbage compactor with enough pressure to squeeze the life out of the Warriors offense. They're loose with the ball and tight on snap decisions that have freely flowed all season. Oracle Arena fans are the wildest in the league, but they're on the edge coaxing their team to turn a play into an all-time Vine. The Warriors are trying to feed them and perhaps it's time to let that go.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors grinded the game to a halt. They repeatedly pushed the ball to halfcourt in transition and stopped. They fed Shaun Livingston against Delly in the post. They didn't run a double-high screen until there was the shot clock read "8". Everything was slow, deliberate, and ugly. The Cavs had wanted it this way and got it. The Warriors can play this way, if they own the lead, and they got it.
And perhaps that's how the rest of the series will go. Steph and Klay might not have that flaming ball of molten lava doused in grease game. It will likely remain a tense, close, ugly, slow 48-53 minute affair that favors the Cavs. But the Warriors can get there now. They know they can. If there was a Kyrie Irving or a Kevin Love, the entire complexion of this series changes. It'd be much more aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. The Warriors are stuck in the mud now. And it isn't just Curry in there flinging dirt around.
The Warriors prided themselves on the notion of sharing the ball and playing as a team all season. Bob Myers refused to push for Curry specifically as the MVP because it'd be a disservice to his team. Curry never runs out in pregame intros to his own name, rather evading it and running out with Thompson during his. Professional basketball is a team sport but it's also very much a game about superstars. Look at the team across the court. A team very much in the lottery without LeBron James and with or without Love/Irving.
But these Warriors? They've pushed the notion of a true cast of characters blended together by chemistry and personality all season long. And here is Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green, and David Lee collectively stepping up when their MVP needs them the most. In just 2-3 games left in a season for the ages, the Golden State Warriors might have finally figured it all out together.