Just marvel at the man who wears the No. 30 Golden State Warriors jersey. Outside of it, he looks as if he could be any guy you walk past in the grocery store. Quite possibly someone who might actually need to shop for used cars online instead of getting paid handsomely as a pitchman to do so. But when Wardell Stephen Curry puts on that jersey, he’s the best shooter on the planet, the hands-down 2022 Finals MVP and the reason the Warriors will win another championship.
Now, the Boston Celtics should win. If basketball was a meritocracy, in which the better team always reaped the rewards, then the Celtics would take Game 5 and a 3-2 series lead Monday night. Then they would return home, and late in Game 6, somewhere in the bowels of TD Garden, a gloved handler cradling the oversized, robin’s-egg blue bag that protects the golden Larry O’Brien Trophy would prepare it for presentation. For its rightful owners: the 2021-22 Boston Celtics.
The Celtics have been the better team in three of the four games in this series. They have the better defense, a clamping, physical brand that encourages well-intentioned shooters to become over-dribblers. With center Robert Williams III lording over the paint and four lanky defenders in front of him, Boston has forced Golden State to roam for vacant spots and find little hope around the perimeter.
Stephen Curry shakes off injury, wills Warriors to Game 4 win to knot NBA Finals
The Celtics’ overall depth is better, and they’re getting consistent contributions from their best players. Even when first-team all-NBA player Jayson Tatum struggles through shooting lows, he’s not above breaking into a full sprint, as he did in Game 4, to save a loose ball and sliding into the sneakers of his teammates on the sideline. Point guard Marcus Smart also showed his willingness to nearly break his back Friday night, going all-in to sell a flop, just to get a whistle.
These are the winning plays that should be rewarded with a promotion, elevating the young Celtics as a start-up from Suffolk County to a basketball empire that’s primed to secure the franchise’s 18th banner sooner rather than later. The better team should prevail in this series.
Curry is disrupting the logic that a seven-game series favors the more complete team, that a singular star can’t win it all by himself. While he may not be LeBron James in 2007, dragging guys such as Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic to the Finals, Curry has made it seem as if his team will win the title if he can keep up playing solitaire for a few more games.
“Came out and showed why he’s one of the best players who’s ever played,” teammate Draymond Green said after watching Curry’s performance in Game 4, “and why this organization has been able to ride him to so much success. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Only two other point guards in the history of the league had recorded 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Finals game. One has his silhouette as the NBA’s logo, and the other simply goes by his nickname — Magic.
Curry joined that list with his 43 points (on 14-for-26 shooting, which included seven three-pointers) and 10 rebounds in the Warriors’ series-tying victory in Game 4. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, one voice after another joined the hallelujah chorale in praise of him. And the truth in their words seemed to suggest their dependence in one man — something the Warriors, once defined by their “strength in numbers,” never had to do before during a Finals run.
“We wouldn’t have won without him,” Jordan Poole said.
“All you can do is watch. When Steph has the ball sometimes, you just watch and see what he does,” Andrew Wiggins confessed.
“To go out there and put us on his back, I mean, we got to help him out on Monday,” Klay Thompson observed.
The Warriors all seem to trust in their championship DNA — which they bring up even without being asked — but know deep down that this team isn’t the same as those in 2015, 2017 or 2018. Thompson, in his post-injury recovery, hasn’t rediscovered the marksman touch that once made the Golden State backcourt the most feared from 23 feet 9 inches and beyond. Even more troubling for the Warriors, the final piece to their Big Three, Green, has been unplayable on the offensive end.
When Marcus Thompson II, the venerable Bay Area columnist, asked Warriors Coach Steve Kerr about his substitution pattern (“How much gangsta did you have to summon to sit him?”), the question was about not playing Curry at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But Kerr also needed a certain amount of gangsta — or just eyesight — to send Green to the bench way before the midway point of the fourth. Kerr kept Green there until the 3:41 mark in favor of offense-for-defense substitutions with Poole, the 22-year-old guard.
“This is a tough series for him to score because of Boston’s size and athleticism,” Kerr explained about Green, who has averaged 4.3 points and has missed all nine of his three-point attempts. “But he’s still impacting the game at a huge level.”
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Green finished with nine rebounds and eight assists, and Thompson drilled a pair of timely three-pointers in the final quarter. They did just enough to propel the Warriors to a win and possibly secure the momentum ahead of what could be the series-defining Game 5 in San Francisco. Curry did everything else.
“Proud of everybody in terms of our physicality, our focus, perseverance throughout the game,” Curry said in complimenting the team when it would have been appropriate to break his hand by patting himself on the back.
“Two and two is way better than 3-1 going home.”
And in this series, one Wardell Stephen Curry is greater than all.