“I’m back.” “I’m back.”
Those were the words exuberantly shouted by Steph Curry after nailing a three-pointer in overtime to help life Golden State to a dramatic 132-125 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
For the just announced NBA MVP (his second straight and first player to win it unanimously), it was his Onyx moment. The way he was jumping around and flailing his arms and exuding a bravado that rocked the emotions of every basketball fan on earth is throwback classic.
As I mentioned previously, Golden State “the team” has had their run in the sun. Chef Curry is back and it’s prime title time. His 40 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on Monday night lifted Golden State to a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals matchup against a relentless and pesky Portland squad.
Curry’s emphatic dagger was part of a performance that will be mentioned for the ages. Not just because he entered the game with Golden State down 16-2 in the first quarter to score an NBA-record 17 points in overtime. His night had all of the drama of the hit series Empire.
The initial plan was for Curry to play about 25 minutes off the bench. Shaun Livingston’s been doing a solid job filling in for Steph, who was playing for the first time since spraining his knee in Game 4 of the Houston series.
Curry was forced to play 36 minutes when Livingston got two techs and was ejected for arguing a call in the second quarter. Livingston had started six of the eight playoff games while Curry nursed his knee injury.
Curry was a bit off for the first three-quarters and he missed an off balance shot that would have ended it in regulation. That was just the calm before the storm, because he was raining on the rim in O.T. The the two-time League MVP was back and he was vintage Steph when it counted the most. In fact, he was like a wild animal let out of the cage.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index now gives Golden State a 48 percent chance to win it all. With Steph back in the rotation, it's probably higher than that. If you thought Curry was running out of levels, fall back and continue to watch the ascension.
TNT’s Kenny Smith said, “His aggression never ceased and never wandered….I’m speechless.”
“I like the fact that he didn’t care if he was missing,” Charles Barkley added. “He just kept firing it up.”
Yeah, and everybody on God’s green earth knows that you can’t trade acrobatic shots, tough threes and verbal warfare with Golden State. The higher the score goes, the better the chances of the Warriors winning because the Splash Brothers hit airmail shots at a higher rate than any guard tandem in the league’s illustrious and plentiful history.
Damian Lillard and and CJ McCollum performed admirably and made a slew of difficult shots, but they missed way too many, shooting a combined 18-53.
The rugged beauty in all of this is that Steph might have been balling with his new school game, but he had a swag, flair and nasty, obnoxious demeanor that was reminiscent of the old time greats. And when he does it, nobody gets offended or complains. The awe-inspiring moments the little guy evokes almost entitles him to it. As he maneuvers among the giants, he is inspiring every jump-shooting, average-sized boy in America to get your stroke, heart, hustle and handle right and anything is possible.
Steph knew this would become one of his memorable moments and all of the pieces were set in place following Livingston’s rejection.
The rest of the magical night took care of itself. The way everything played out was like destiny. This was the ending that media, marketing gurus, fans, Golden State and Steph Curry dreamed about.
If Curry played, we knew he would have some impact on the game. Golden State is a solid squad without Curry, but we once again saw the dominance they inflict with him. The total magnificence that lifted them to an NBA-record 73 wins.
As soon as he got back in the flow, a team that had some problems keeping up with Portland's high-powered pace became the omnipotent offensive force in the NBA again. “We always say no lead is safe against Golden State,” said Shaquille O’Neal.
Especially when Steph Curry is trolling the hardwood. All teams can really do is sit back like Carlito and say, “Here comes the pain.”