By MIKE HERNDON
What is it in Steph Curry’s DNA that allows him to do what he does?
I’m not talking about his penchant for ridiculously long-range shooting. That comes from God-given ability and years and years of practice. I’m talking about his ability to somehow rise to the occasion in big spots, as he did yet again in this year’s NBA Finals.
No, he doesn’t win every game. He and the Warriors haven’t won every Finals they’ve been in, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in 2016 and falling to the Raptors after Kevin Durant got hurt in 2019. But he has been the centerpiece of a remarkable run of NBA dominance – four titles and six Finals appearances in eight years.
Two of those titles included Durant, but two of them didn’t – and this year’s may be the most improbable. ESPN certainly must think so, although we’ll assume whoever crafted their Basketball Power Index has some major adjustments to make in their math:
What all four of the Warriors’ titles in this run have in common are the trio of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and the man on the bench, Steve Kerr. It’s been a remarkable collaboration. Consider, for instance, this incredible stat:
And Kerr’s record, as both a player and a coach:
Three years ago, while the Warriors were falling to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals, I questioned whether dynasties like the Warriors were a dying breed. Kevin Durant was rumored to be on his way out of Golden State (and indeed, he was), and other teams began loading up – Anthony Davis joined LeBron with the Lakers, Durant went to Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined the Clippers.
For all intents and purposes, it looked like the last days of the Warriors’ dominance.
LeBron and AD got their title in the COVID bubble season of 2020, while the Warriors, with Klay Thompson missing the entire season and Curry missing all but five games, finished with the worst record in the NBA. The next season, with Thompson still sidelined with an Achilles tear, they lost to the Lakers in the postseason’s new play-in game.
So when Curry said on the postgame podium that no one expected them to be there, there is some truth to it. The statement was challenged on Twitter, where it was noted that they’d played in five of the previous seven NBA finals series and won three of them. But that ignored the context of what happened in 2020 and 2021.
There were plenty of people who thought they were washed. And Curry kept receipts:
The point has also been raised that this may be the weakest championship team of Golden State’s current run, although we might be splitting hairs comparing Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole with Harrison Barnes and a younger Andre Iguodala on the 2015 team.
But while it’s one of the best feel-good stories of these Finals that Thompson was there at all, he averaged just 17 points in these Finals and broke 20 just twice. In Game 6, he was 5-of-20 for just 12 points, leaving Wiggins as essentially the Warriors’ second offensive option in the deciding game.
It was Curry who carried the scoring load on his back for most of the series. He averaged 31 points in the series, dropping 43 in Game 4 and hitting for 34 on 12-of-21 shooting in the deciding Game 6. There couldn’t have been any less drama around the announcement of the Finals MVP.
Now much of the talk has devolved, as it inevitably does, to discussions of individual rankings and legacy — whether Steph is one of the Top 10 players all-time (I’d argue he is) and whether Jayson Tatum is really a superstar-caliber player. After a slow start in Game 1, Tatum picked up his play in Games 2-5, but disappeared in Game 6 with just 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting. He was a focal point of Golden State’s defensive efforts throughout the series and that created open looks for other Celtics like Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Marcus Smart.
While it’s fair to question his performance and where he stands among the NBA’s current slew of budding stars, Tatum’s future remains bright. We can pick apart his Finals performance, but let’s remember that LeBron James averaged 22 points and was outscored by Tony Parker while his Cavaliers were swept 4-0 in his first Finals appearance in 2007. So perhaps we should give Tatum a break. He’s not King James and won’t ever be, but his career won’t necessarily be defined by these last six games.
While we quibble about historical rankings and arbitrary labels, perhaps we ought to instead be appreciating what the core of Curry, Thompson, Green and Kerr has accomplished. As nebulous and often misused as the term is, these guys are winners. They proved it again this year.
They also proved that in the NBA, a core of three players who are not only great, but complement each other and care more about winning than individual stats and salaries, can rule the world as long as they want and as long as they stay together.
The Warriors’ dynasty may not last much longer — Steph is 34 and Klay and Draymond are 32. But I’m not going to be the guy holding a zero to my eye when talking about what Steph Curry can or cannot do.