Steph Curry failed.
Let’s just say it plainly. The NBA’s reigning, unanimous Most Valuable Player got badly outplayed by the NBA Finals MVP on Sunday night, and that’s the biggest reason Cleveland shocked Golden State and won a thrilling Game 7 on the Warriors’ home floor, 93-89.
While Cleveland’s LeBron James played like a superhuman while finishing off the best basketball game of his career given the enormous stakes, Curry was utterly human.
Curry scored 17 points in Game 7, which was barely half his 30.1 regular-season average. He was 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter, when everything was on the line. He threw a left-handed, behind-the-back pass straight out of bounds at a critical moment. During one late timeout, he kept hitting himself in the head in frustration, trying to bang some sense into himself.
Curry never did get himself fixed, though. The former Davidson star had chances, getting the sorts of shots he has made all season for a Golden State team whose 73-9 regular-season record was the best in NBA history. I predicted before these Finals began that Cleveland would win the series in seven games, but I never, ever would have predicted that Curry would have played like that in a Game 7.
But he did. And at the end of this season, Golden State now looks a whole lot like Curry’s favorite NFL team did in February. Just like the Carolina Panthers, Golden State finished in second place after a remarkable regular season and must spend the offseason puzzling out the what-ifs.
“It hurts, man,” Curry said after the game. “I mean, that’s all I’m really kind of marinating on right now.”
So what next? To answer that, I remind you of another time, seven years ago, when Curry also failed.
Failure against Charleston instructive
Everyone remembers Davidson’s run to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2008, when Curry was a baby-faced sophomore. Few people ever talk about 2009, when Curry and Davidson lost two huge games in a month to College of Charleston and didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.
What happened? Almost exactly the same thing. Don’t let anybody tell you Curry hasn’t experienced this before; it’s just that a lot fewer people saw it last time.
The first time in 2009 when Davidson lost to Charleston, Curry went 1-for-11 in the second half. Davidson’s 43-game regular-season Southern Conference win streak ended – at home! – when Curry rose for what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer and instead had it cleanly blocked from behind by a guy he never saw. Charleston won 77-75.
A month later, playing Charleston again, Curry went 5-for-18 in a Southern Conference tournament semifinal. Davidson lost again, by seven points this time.
So Curry failed. Twice.
This happens to every athlete. Shoot, even now, LeBron James’ NBA Finals record is still only 3-4. Curry is 1-1.
Curry then went pro, got better, rehabbed injuries, changed the NBA game’s entire offensive mindset and won two NBA MVPs and one team championship. He doesn’t know how to quit or settle, and he won’t do it this time, either.
I think Curry was somewhat compromised by his lingering knee injury, but that’s no excuse. After 100-odd games, no one is totally healthy. Curry simply couldn’t score or generate scoring at the end of the game, as the Warriors missed their final nine shots. That’s what he’s paid to do. That’s why he has all those endorsements, and that’s what he couldn’t do. It was Kyrie Irving who was finishing contested layups at the rim on Sunday, not Curry.
Curry will return to NBA Finals
Will Curry ever be back to an NBA Finals? Oh, yeah. Maybe even next year. The Warriors’ Big Three (Curry, along with fellow All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) are all under contract.
Curry won’t play for the U.S. this summer in Brazil, skipping the Olympics to rest. I think that’s a mistake unless he’s hurt a lot worse than we thought – this may be his best chance to win an Olympic gold medal – but he’s already made the decision. He’s going to rest – and marinate – instead.
“It’s not a good feeling, like I said,” Curry remarked in his postgame news conference. “At the end of the day, we want to keep this memory so that it will fuel us as we stay together as a team. Because like Draymond said, ‘This ain’t the last time you’re going to this stage.’”
Part of Curry’s appeal has always been his Everyman sort of body.
When you walk through an airport, no one looks like LeBron. A lot of people look like Steph and think, “I could do all that he does if I could just shoot like he could.”
On Sunday, though, Steph wasn’t Steph. He wore No. 30, but there the resemblance ended. Curry failed.
But he will be back.