Steph Curry's superstar rise began with March Madness moment 11 years ago

Steph Curry's superstar rise began with March Madness moment 11 years ago

Eleven years ago Thursday, a little-known guard from a small college in North Carolina burst onto the scene. 

That guard was Steph Curry, an eventual three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP. But before he was Steph Curry, he led Davidson to a first-round upset of Gonzaga in the 2008 NCAA men's basketball tournament. 

He posted what would become a stereotypical Steph stat-line, connecting on 80 percent of his 3-point attempts to knock off the Zags. The win kick-started 10th-seeded Davidson's surprise run to the Elite Eight, and it began with a clutch performance from Curry.

Davidson trailed Gonzaga by five heading into the second half, and by as many as 11 points with fewer than 16 minutes left. But Curry scored 30 of his 40 points -- his NCAA tournament-high -- in the second half, and led the Wildcats to the upset. 

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Curry's sophomore season ended nine days later, three points shy of upsetting eventual champion Kansas and advancing to the Final Four. But by then, his name was firmly in the national consciousness, and his path to basketball superstardom had begun in earnest. 

Little did anyone know that the beginning of said path would look a lot like what's followed over the ensuing decade. 

What if Draymond Green wasn't suspended for Game 5 of 2016 NBA Finals?

What if Draymond Green wasn't suspended for Game 5 of 2016 NBA Finals?

The Warriors are on the quest to becoming one of six teams in NBA history to win three championships in a row. While three is great, five titles in a row would be even better.

A singular moment stopped the Warriors from having the chance to become the first team since the 1960s Boston Celtics to win five straight championships: Draymond Green’s suspension in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Green’s suspension came after he received a flagrant foul for swiping at LeBron James’ groin in Game 4, triggering an automatic suspension for his fourth flagrant of the playoffs. James and the Cavs used Green’s absence to come back from a three-games-to-one Finals deficit for the first time in NBA history.

But what if Green didn’t get suspended in the 2016 Finals? How would history have changed?

“The Warriors would definitely have had a different history if Draymond Green played that whole series,” former Dubs forward and current NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Kelenna Azubuike said. “They definitely would have won that series and won that championship.”

“There’s no debate with me I think we win,” said NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors analyst Garry St. Jean.

This hypothetical stretches farther than winning or losing the 2016 Finals. If the Warriors win the title in 2016, does Kevin Durant -- who received so much criticism for joining Golden State -- still come to the Bay?

“My suspicion is Kevin Durant would have still come to the Warriors,” NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors Insider Monte Poole said. “ I think he was curious about who the Warriors were, curious about the Bay Area and wanted to see how their culture is.” 

“Kevin Durant’s even made it clear there were points in which he looked at the Warriors team and thought that if they had won it wouldn’t have been the right situation for him to join.” Warriors Outsiders host Grant Liffmann said. “It seemed like the perfect situation for him once it became clear the team was a little bit in transition and was able to lose in the finals.” 

Durant and the Thunder, of course, were up three-games-to-one in the 2016 Western Conference Finals before the Warriors rallied to win the series.

“It felt like that whole thing was set up for me to leave,” Durant said in a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, “especially after they blew a lead in the Finals, because I damn sure wasn’t going there if they’d won. But after Game 7, I called up my agent and said, ‘Damn, dude, Golden State – what if?’ ”

The Warriors infamously sent Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to Kevin Durant’s free agent meeting in the Hamptons that summer. Azubuike believes the Finals loss cracked open the door for the path to Durant.

“KD is unselfish but he does have an ego, a superstar ego. You want to feel like a team needs you and a team wants you.” Azubuike said. “Obviously after the Warriors lost that series they were able to go to KD ‘hey we need you’.”

If we continue the "What if" game, what if Durant decided not to sign with the Warriors in 2016? Do they bring back Harrison Barnes -- who signed a four-year, $94 million deal with the Mavericks -- and Andrew Bogut?

"I’ve asked Joe Lacob this very question, ‘What if KD doesn’t come here? He danced and danced and danced around the answer," Poole said. "And I said would you have brought back Harrison Barnes and he danced and danced and danced around the answer. He never gave me a straight answer and I don’t think he has ever given anyone a straight answer. It was pretty clear his heart was set on Durant and when he got him he was elated.”

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Luckily for Warriors fans, they don’t have to play the "What if" game much. 

Jerry West shares perspective on Warriors-Clippers first-round series

Jerry West shares perspective on Warriors-Clippers first-round series

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders tonight at 6, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

NBA legend Jerry West worked for the Warriors for six years.

Shortly after Golden State won the title in 2017, he left the franchise and took a job with the Clippers.

The Logo watched Game 2 from afar in West Virginia and knows that even though the series is tied at 1-1, the Clippers have an uphill battle ahead of them.

"I’m just hopeful we can play well in the rest of this series, make it an interesting series and scare them a little bit," West told Sam Amick of The Athletic. "And we could – we could.”

West -- a two-time NBA Executive of the Year (1995, 2004) -- is very focused on free agency as the Clippers have big aspirations this summer.

But he certainly is enjoying the moment.

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“It’s gratifying," West said. “I would be stupid not to be gratified by being involved and winning against a team where everybody said we’re going to get beat 4-0, and the odds are 1000-to-1 or some damn thing. It’s fun to maybe make them think a little bit. They will answer. That’s for sure.

"I have great respect for Steve (Kerr), and obviously the players. They play the game the way it should be played, so hopefully we can play really well and move on.”

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