PORTLAND, Ore. — All through the first two rounds, the silliest of debates kept resurfacing in those charmless public dive bars we call sports talk and social media.
Stephen Curry can’t do this. Or can he? He isn’t doing that. But is he? He Is overrated. He is underrated.
Curry handled it as he always does, as he would a heckler in the forest 100 miles away. He keeps playing. And winning.
He came into the Western Conference finals to the sound of skeptics wondering if he could thrive in the postseason, as if he has not already. As if the Warriors, with him as their front man, hadn’t won three NBA championships in four years.
Oh, but without Kevin Durant, could Curry carry the load?
Answer: Curry came out of the conference finals with 146 points, or 36.5 per game, as the Warriors swept the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, finishing the job with a 119-117 overtime win in Game 4 on Monday night at Moda Center.
If Curry’s 33-point second half in Game 6 of the second round to bury the Rockets weren’t enough, he averaged 36.5 over the four conference finals games.
“The situation called for more aggressiveness,” Curry said. “The way KD was playing up until the time he was hurt, we had a certain balance and a certain look as a team. Every guy took the challenge when he went out to step up and play a little more aggressive: Myself, Draymond — what he did in the series is unbelievable — Klay, on both ends of the floor. And then the collection of bench guys and role guys that really helped us in this series.”
Curry in Game 4 posted a triple-double: 37 points (on 11-of-25 shooting, including 7 of 15 from deep), 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He did enough to cover for the offensive struggles of Klay Thompson (17 points, 7-of-21 shooting, four turnovers).
“Steph was making shots tonight,” Thompson said. “Me, I missed a couple. I missed a few of them.”
What might have been most impressive of Curry is that after scoring 25 points in the first half, he never left the floor once the third quarter started, playing all 29 minutes of the second half and overtime. No one else on either team subjected themselves to such torture.
When the Blazers went up 17 (95-78) late in the third quarter, Curry responded with a 30-foot 30-ball. It trimmed the deficit to 14, but it also sent a message that the Warriors were going nowhere. That shot set off a 9-0 run that allowed the Warriors to open the fourth quarter down eight.
“We know we can cover 17 points in a matter of three or four minutes, and so we always try to keep that mindset that we are never out of the game and we just need to make solid plays,” Draymond Green said. “It definitely helps to have No. 30 [Curry], who they can go up 17 and he hits a 3, it just kind of puts them back on their heels and it shifts the momentum for us.”
Curry usually sits for the first five or six minutes of the fourth quarter. Not this time. Less than a minute into the fourth, he drilled a 27-foot 3-ball that pulled the Warriors within five. The Moda Center crowd turned quiet, as if they knew what was coming.
The Warriors outscored Portland 24-16 in the fourth quarter to send the game into OT.
Once there, the Warriors seemed to get into a zone of comfort. Both teams were reeling, but the Warriors were pulling the Blazers toward the deep end of the postseason ocean. Curry’s biggest play in OT was not a bucket but a dime, a pass whipped to Green that he launched from 25 feet.
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Splash. A triple. Warriors up four (119-115), 39.6 seconds remaining.
Game over, with Curry dancing off in triumph.