Stephen Curry, with his shield broken in half and facing a seemingly insurmountable barrage of offense from a team holding a clear talent and skill advantage, didn’t choose to stay down and lose hope in the face of adversity. The odds were clearly stacked against him, and even if he tried his best to charge by his lonesome — no matter how far he lasted or how well he performed — chances are that it would all be in vain.
It didn’t matter. Curry tightened the straps of his shield and prepared to charge. It was his heroic last stand.
Those who were rooting for the protagonist of this story to suddenly get help in the form of the classic movie cliché — in that the hero, preparing to sacrifice himself or herself despite guaranteed death will, at the last minute, have several supporting characters arrive to hammer down the fact that he or she is not alone in his or her struggle — were in for a massive disappointment.
There would be no one to tell Curry that he had someone on his left. There would be no magical portals opening, revealing that all of a sudden, the injured Klay Thompson, the rehabbing Kevin Durant, and the sidelined Kevon Looney would all come out to give Curry much needed firepower and support.
Real life isn’t as linear and glamorous as the movies. Happy endings don’t always come to fruition. And heroes don’t always win.
Stephen Curry did his best against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. He finished with an immaculate stat line, worthy of his status as a two-time MVP, with one of them carrying the distinction of being the first and only unanimous MVP awarded in the history of the league. The Warriors needed that version of Curry to show up, and he did — he finished with 47 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, shooting 14-for-31 overall (45.2 percent), 6-for-14 from 3-point range (42.9 percent), and knocking down 13 of his 14 free throw attempts (92.9 percent).
But as Warriors fans have come to familiarize themselves with all too well, individual numbers don’t mean anything if the end result is defeat. Great performances will get lost in the face of a strong collective performance. LeBron James has had several monstrous individual performances against the Warriors in the past, but save for one occasion, they failed to lead him to the top of the mountain (and even so, that one exception came with massive support from his then co-star, Kyrie Irving). The same thing happened with Curry in Game 3 — the NBA is a league of superstars, but the game of basketball is ultimately a team effort.
“(Curry) was amazing,” Draymond Green — who finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists — said after the game. “I gotta play better and offer him more help, but I think if I played better with the night that he had, we would’ve won. We need him to continue to be aggressive like he’s been. All of us gotta continue to fill in and be better, and like I said, that starts with me.”
By himself, Curry cannot possibly win against a team shooting 52.4 percent from the field, including an incredible 17-for-38 shooting from beyond the arc, good for 44.7 percent. With 3 of their best defenders sidelined, was it too much to expect that the Warriors would win against an opponent who managed to put up an incredible offensive rating of 124.2 in Game 3? By the end of the night, that question was answered in emphatic fashion.
The Warriors, bereft of reliable scoring options save for Curry, cannot win against a defense that has been wreaking havoc so far in the postseason, with a defensive rating of 103.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. No amount of defense can stop Curry, even one such as the Raptors’ — but any amount of defense can stop everyone else, especially if their names aren’t Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant.
The Raptors are just too good of a team to let this opportunity slip from their grasp. Despite facing a clearly undermanned championship team, they themselves have shown that they are equally capable of greatness, of being elite, and of being worthy of a championship.
“We went out there and played hard, and we lost,” Green said. “We didn’t go in this game thinking we’re not going to play Klay or Kevin or Loon or anybody else and we’re just going to give this game away. They played well. They knocked down, I think, 17 threes. You gotta give them credit.”
Kawhi Leonard did his part, and that was to be expected, finishing with 30 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the field (52.9 percent), while knocking down 10 of his 11 attempts from the free throw line (90.9 percent). But more importantly, Leonard received a multitude of help from his supporting cast, which emphasizes an all too important reality: that a team cannot win with just a singular herculean effort from a superstar with virtually little-to-no support; it has to come from everyone on the team.
Kyle Lowry was able to knock down his shots, finishing with 23 points on 5-for-9 shooting from deep. Marc Gasol bounced back from a mediocre Game 2 showing, finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Fred VanVleet finished with 11 points and was able to knock down 3 of his 6 attempts from beyond the arc, as well as continuing to dog Curry around and making life for him as difficult as humanly possible.
More notably, Pascal Siakam bounced back from being held in check in Game 2 by the Warriors defense by taking advantage of the Warriors’ depleted defensive options. Finishing with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, Siakam was mostly defended by Andre Iguodala, an adjustment that was made due to the fact that the Warriors were forced to put their best defender, Draymond Green, on Leonard. Green’s ability to act as a defender on Siakam —and in turn, act as a roaming help defender — was severely hampered. This allowed Siakam to feast on whoever was put on him, especially when stationed on the post and close to the rim, where he is at his best.
To further illustrate the Warriors’ lack of depth due to their shorthanded roster, Siakam manages to get matched up with Jonas Jerebko, a slow-footed player who is far from being a capable defender. He is severely outmatched by the lengthy and more athletic Siakam.
And last, but certainly not the least, Danny Green — ever the classic tormentor of the Warriors dating back to his days with the San Antonio Spurs — came back to punish the Warriors with his sublime shooting. Finishing with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc, Green torched the Warriors all night long on the perimeter. Most shots were a result of the Warriors’ lackluster 3-point defense, which were a combination of losing focus in that particular aspect and the fact that the Warriors were simply stretched thin on defense due to missing 2 of their best perimeter defenders.
The Warriors sold out too much on the defensive end, putting too much attention on interior drives and failing to close out toward the perimeter, allowing Green to get unobstructed looks at the rim, especially in transition. Much like their problems in getting back on defense after missed shots in Game 1, the Warriors once again fell victim to Green’s ability to spot up in transition and knock down open looks. He might’ve struggled mightily during the Eastern Conference finals — but true to his streaky nature, it was inevitable that Green would start knocking down his shots.
Green even managed to bury a shot that wasn’t as open or set as his previous ones, but at that point he had already established a shooting rhythm. Pretty much every deadly marksman in the history of the NBA has had the ability to shoot unconsciously, and in this 50-50 sequence that tilts in favor of the Raptors, Green pretty much knocks the wind out of the Warriors and Oracle Arena.
“They played well the whole game,” Curry said after the game. “Every time we made a run or got the crowd into it, they either made a tough 3 or there was a tough foul call and they slowed the tempo down or something went their way. It’s just how it goes sometimes. You have to tip your cap to all the guys who made pivotal plays at the right times.”
Such tips of the cap are rightfully deserved, no matter how much the Raptors benefited from the Warriors’ injury situation. The Raptors can do nothing but play whoever is put in front of them — by not playing at their best against such an opportunity would be unbecoming of them, and it would be an embarrassment if they failed to take advantage.
For the Warriors, being down 2-1 in a playoff series isn’t the ideal situation to be in, but it is something that they’ve experienced before.
In the 2015 Western Conference semifinals, the Grit and Grind Memphis Grizzlies put fear into the upstart Warriors, before the burgeoning champions dug deep and came back to win in 6 games. In the 2015 NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead before succumbing in 6 games to the Warriors. In the 2016 Western Conference finals, the Warriors went down 2-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, eventually going down 3-1 and were looking like they were permanently down for the count — before they won 3 games in a row and made their way to the Finals.
This isn’t an unfamiliar predicament for the Warriors. They are expected to know what to do with their backs against the ropes, and they have proven before that they are capable of surmounting all odds whenever they are placed in a difficult situation.
Curry may have been all by his lonesome in Game 3, with his shield all but broken and his effort rendered ultimately moot. But the script isn’t set in stone — the Warriors are still capable of rewriting it to their liking. They are still in control of their destiny, and the happy ending that is seemingly getting more and more out of reach is still well within the realm of possibility.
It might all depend on the availability of Thompson and Durant in Game 4. In all honesty, the Warriors may only need to have one of the two in order to have a serious fighting chance in this series. Having the both of them back at once is the ideal, and that would seriously change their fortunes and could allow them to take 3 of the remaining 4 games.
Either way, it will be a tall task against these hungry Raptors. The odds are now well against the protagonists. The movies aren’t always like real life — the Warriors, often the villains in many peoples’ eyes but the heroes for so many others, may not come out of this story victorious.
Curry may need to continue to take it upon himself to carry the burden, to continue brandishing the shield and keep charging straight on against futility.
Otherwise, if there was ever a great time for that cliché to come true in real life — with someone on Curry’s left coming to his aid, and for portals to open and reveal the help that the Warriors sorely need — now would be the perfect time for fantasy to reflect reality.
Thirteen wins down, 3 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.