Stephen Curry crammed his 6-foot-3 frame into a small chair in the living room of his East Bay home. His knee bruised and bloodied. His thigh swollen to the point of it looking like a loaf of sourdough bread fresh out of the oven.
Only an hour or so removed from a heartbreaking loss in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Curry’s thigh and knee were letting him know that it’s officially his summer and it’s time for immediate rest and recuperation. His mother Sonya pressed her fingers into the lump of flesh and felt it twitch.
“His muscle’s contracting,” she said to Curry’s wife, Ayesha, father Dell and his friend and business partner Bryant Barr.
Curry continued to sit in that chair, wrapped up in a bandage of ice. Defiantly joyful in spite of the lost Finals. Still laughing. Still smiling. Still Steph.
This scene from the last episode of Curry’s Facebook series Stephen Vs. The Game epitomized his 2018-19 campaign. In the midst of having the highest of expectations, fighting the Warriors’ on and off court maladies, and getting the best shot of every team in the league , Curry never wavered. His energy stayed consistent and he managed to have one of his best seasons to date.
Coming In Hot
In the season opener, Curry scored 32 points in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he took that same energy and momentum in subsequent games early in the season. He averaged 32.5 points per game in the season’s first 10 games. Curry also shot a ridiculous split of 54/51/92 during that span. At one point, Curry even sat atop of the KIA MVP Ladder.
In the two previous seasons, pundits repeatedly proclaimed that Curry and Kevin Durant would siphon MVP votes from one another and cancel each other out. Even in the aforementioned link, Sekou Smith wrote the following as if to say ‘You’re still here?! Damn! ’
When Kevin Durant raised the Finals MVP trophy in June—his second straight,mind you—it was supposed to be over for Stephen Curry.
The prevailing wisdom said there was no way that the former two-time Kia MVP winner Curry would be able to contend for a third Maurice Podoloff Trophy playing alongside Durant (A former KIA MVP himself).
Their individual brilliance would be muted by their collective strength of their partnership as the two best players on the best team in the league. This notion they would continue to split MVP votes made sense given their super team required all it’s stars to sacrifice personal team glory for the greater good.
Luckily for the Warriors, Curry doesn’t pay much attention to ‘prevailing wisdom’. He'd just put in the work during the offseason, and at this stanza of the season, decided that he was going to lock in and play his game without feeling the need to sacrifice. For the first time in three years, Curry was playing freely and as a result, the Warriors were rolling. They were 10-1 before losing to the Bucks by 23 at home, and losing Curry for 11 games due to a groin injury.
Wardell, fix my squad!
If Curry’s blistering start and the Warriors’ record during the season’s first stretch weren’t enough to solidify his status as the team’s most important player, his absence drove the sentiment home during the 11 games that he was out. Golden State was a + 118 in Curry’s 399 minutes of the season at the time. When he sat, the team was a -8 during the 470 non-Curry minutes. Without Curry, the offense looked disjointed and out of sorts. In six of the 11 games that Curry missed, the Warriors made five fewer threes per game and dished six fewer assists per game. Klay Thompson shot 15-for-55 from three and Kevin Durant shot 3- for-21 from three from the same distance for the six game stretch. The Warriors were 5-6 during Curry’s absence.
Without Curry to catalyze the Warriors’ ‘organized chaos’ on the offensive end, the team don’t pass as much as they usually do, or even effectively. Consequently, the team takes worse shots and makes less of them. It was a struggle to try and compensate and emulate what Curry brings to the offense while he was out.
“We’re at our best when Steph is aggressive and making shots. It’s simple,” Durant said at the time. “We try our best for him and Klay to get open. Free them so they can run around the open court and get them open shots and take advantage of mismatches . For us, our whole thing is how can we do that as much as we can.”
Curry’s absence wasn’t only felt on the court, but off of it as well. Curry did not make the November road trip when the infamous Draymond Green and Durant blowup happened, but he had the pulse of the situation. According to the Mercury News’ Mark Medina, Curry drove to Green’s house to talk. Then he talked separately with Durant, other teammates, coaches and front office.
“He was tapped into the situation from the beginning,” Green said.
And afterwards. When the Warriors faced the Rockets in Houston the following week, Curry made the trip and sat between the feuding teammates and shared constant laughs on the bench in spite of the score.
In addition to the Green/Durant beef, Curry also checked in periodically with a rehabilitating DeMarcus Cousins. In the background of the Warriors’ attempt to develop Damian Jones while awaiting Cousins’ return to the floor in January, Curry had a strong interest in ensuring the team would maximize Cousins’ presence with the roster and the team’s collaborative and inclusive culture.
“He’s (Curry) committed himself to make sure DeMarcus is comfortable and to make sure DeMarcus feels like this is home,” Green told Medina, “He’s never been a guy that is not welcoming of anyone. When that’s the face of your franchise, that’s important.”
A Tale Of Two Playoffs
Curry opened the first round of the playoffs similar to the way he opened the regular season. He carved the Clippers up in game one for 38 points and 15 rebounds and shot 11-for 16 from the field. Later in that first round series, Curry struggled to stay on the floor because he kept getting in foul trouble. Curry’s weaknesses defensively have been well documented and something that he’s well aware of. With that awareness, Curry oftentimes try to over compensate by playing defense with his hands instead of his feet. He’d reach like crazy instead of trying to get steals by playing the passing lanes.
His need to reach on defense cost him in the second round against the Rockets. While trying to steal the ball from PJ Tucker, Curry dislocated his finger on his non shooting hand. For most of the Rockets’ series, Curry struggled with his shot. Some of it is attributed to his injury but some was just a matter of shots not falling. In game 3, Curry could not buy a basket. He shot an embarrassing 7-for-23 from the field and the performance was punctuated by a missed open dunk.
Curry eventually rebounded with a 30 points and 12-for-25 shooting performance in game 4 and turned in an insane second half in game 6 when Curry exploded for all 33 of his points in the second half, eliminating the Rockets once again.
In the Western Conference Finals, Curry averaged 36.5 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. He turned in the highest average by a player in a four game sweep in NBA history, surpassing Shaquille O’Neal total of 36.3 points per in the 2002 NBA Finals.
Despite being in the top 10 in Finals points per game, and solid performances in the 2017 and 2018 Finals, the narrative of Curry not showing up in the Finals has been annoyingly persistent. The Warriors may have lost the series in six but that doesn’t negate that Curry averaged 30.5 points per game while facing box-and-one traps and every defense the Raptors threw at him. It doesn’t negate the fact that the Warriors were within a shot to take the series to a decisive game 7.
In that sequence, I believe that Curry should have pumped faked and drove to the basket for the go ahead field goal. The Warriors still could have took the lead even if it was just a point. The Warriors could have forced a turnover and scored again for a three point lead. But hypotheticals serve no one here. The three peat just wasn’t meant to be at the end.
Curry’s shot in game 6 gave birth to another stat to try and make him look bad. With that missed field goal, Curry is 0-8 in go ahead field goals in the fourth. But the thing with numbers is you can skew them to fit whatever narrative you wish. There’s 0-8 and there’s 4-10.
Despite his injuries, being responsible for ‘fixing’ the team’s issues, facing defenses that throw everything at him and still thrive, Curry gets an A for this season. Not only for him thriving but ultimately surviving.
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