Steph Curry, the Warriors’ ‘breathtaking’ engine for NBA Finals success, delivers again

The leader was shot. He lost sleep. He replayed the devastating loss in his head, revisiting every moment of the fourth quarter meltdown.

Then he returned to work. And figured out how to change things.

After blowing up Game 1, the Golden State Warriors blew up the Celtics in Game 2 to even the series as it returned to Boston. And whoever led them is the man who led them for the past 13 seasons.

“Steph was breathtaking,” head coach Steve Kerr said after the 107-88 victory.

“Doing my job,” guard Stephen Curry said.

Over the years and many trips to the Finals, Curry’s job has changed. He was a young Splash Brother, sharing the scoring burden with Klay Thompson. He was the host, giving big hits to Kevin Durant.

But now he is the center of attention. Of course, to a large extent it has been for a long time. But in this final he doesn’t have one of the best players on the planet on the wing. His partner Splash is still finding his shot and consistency after being sidelined for over two years. His other scoring partners are not experienced in the NBA Finals.

Opponents know it now, perhaps more than ever before: Stop Curry and you stop the Warriors.

“People are going to him to try and wear him down because they know how important he is to us offensively,” Kerr said.

“Guys try to beat him and get physical with him,” center Kevon Looney said. ” He has the habit. He is much stronger than before. »

“Strength in numbers” became “strength in curry”. Older, wiser and physically stronger, Curry showed trickery, tenacity and composure on Sunday that could tip the balance in favor of the Warriors in this NBA Finals.

“You try to find the balance: the score load, the game load and whatever else you’re trying to accomplish throughout the game,” Curry said. “I try to be in control, composed, see the game, feel the flow and rhythm and know where I can get to my spots.

“There’s definitely a lot of composure there, based on the experience of 2015-19 and the last two years.”

Curry’s team turned the NBA Finals into a best-of-five series. His 14 points and teeming defense helped fuel the Warriors’ 35-14 outburst in the third quarter.

Kerr was enthusiastic about Curry’s overall effort in the third quarter.

“Not just the shooting, but the defensive effort,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for his level of conditioning, physicality and defense. It’s quite dramatic the difference in strength and physique Steph has now compared to eight years ago. He just keeps working on his game, his strength, his conditioning.

Curry did what he so often does in the third quarter.

“The ball starts moving, the crowd gets behind us and Steph turns into another person in the third,” Looney said recently. “We’ve been doing it for years now. Steph is known to be one of the best in-form athletes in the NBA and he kind of starts breaking the will of the opponent in the third with his moves and passing.

In Game 2, Curry’s production over the first three quarters — 29 points, including five 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and a plus-24 — earned him a remarkable prize: He got the whole fourth quarter.

The conversation entering the game was how Curry’s minutes might need to increase. After the Game 1 loss, when he scored 21 points in the first quarter but then went relatively quiet, a grim Curry suggested it himself, saying “make the necessary adjustments.”

Curry said he knew what kind of attitude Draymond Green would adopt in Game 2 “about five minutes after Game 1.” You could see the same intensity flash in Curry’s eyes in his words after the first game.

On Sunday, he played the entire first quarter, took less than four minutes out to start the second quarter before re-entering the game, and played the entire third quarter. By the time Jordan Poole did his best Curry impersonation and beat the third quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer just inside midfield, the game was firmly in control. And Curry could step back to the bench, put his towel over his head, and think about Game 3 in Boston.

Where he could have to play more than 40 minutes, depending on how the game goes.

He’s ready for it. He is, by all accounts, including opposing coaches, the best conditioned athlete in the NBA. At 34, he is physically stronger than ever.

“I pride myself on trying to be the hardest worker, the most consistent worker,” Curry said. “Maybe for the past two or three years you have worked much smarter rather than harder. It’s that old saying, what you do in the summer pops up at times like this.

And that helped him become a better defender.

“Steph is a two-way player,” said goaltender Gary Payton II. “He does a lot on the other side, but he also does a lot on the defensive side. He’s in the right place at the right time, he talks to his teammates, he speaks out. He leads by example on both sides of the pitch. .

And on offense, he was the Warriors’ driving force for years.

“It all starts with Steph,” Green said. “When KD was here, our offense still started with Steph. That’s how it’s gonna be.

According to StatMuse, on the offensive side of his NBA Finals career, Curry is averaging 26.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game with a 59.1 total shooting percentage. He is one of only three players to average 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and over 55% in the Finals.

The two others? LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

He’s just doing his job. And make it a series.

Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @annkillion

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