The real Stephen Curry finally showed up in the 2018 National Basketball Association Playoffs, and it was no coincidence that the Warriors surged once he did. True, yesterday’s match was his seventh of the current postseason, and given how the blue and yellow have seen fit to err on the side of caution when it comes to his health, there can be no questioning his fitness every time he suits up. On the other hand, it’s clear that the knee and ankle issues sidelining him for 37 outings thus far in his 2017-2018 campaign had hitherto disrupted his rhythm. Taken in this context, his return to form in the second half of Game Three of the West Finals was a welcome sight.
Considering how the Rockets dominated Game Two of the series, Curry’s capacity to put his skills on display to the fullest figured to be integral to the Warriors’ cause. Foremost in their minds was a conscious effort to return to their egalitarian ways; for all the relative ease with which nine-time All-Star Kevin Durant canned baskets, the isolation-heavy imprint it made ran counter to their predilections. Thusly, Game Three saw them share the ball from the get-go; even virtuoso plays that saw them take advantage of defensive mismatches came organically.
Granted, Curry is as much an instigator as a beneficiary of the Warriors’ pace-and-space system, and it may well be that the optics of yesterday’s contest favored them simply because he made his shots. Then again, that he finally did with accuracy from the third quarter on speaks volumes of his dramatically increased confidence in his touch and, more importantly, in his teammates’ trust in his touch. He may have been errant in the first half, but the fact that they kept going to him bolstered his belief in himself.
Parenthetically, it helped that Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr allowed — or, to be more precise, enabled — Curry to do the same thing the Rockets were doing to him. Even as they tried to wear him down anew by constantly setting picks to match him up on defense with top scorer James Harden, he repaid them in kind on offense, engaging in screens to get the presumptive Most Valuable Player to cover him. And, creditably, he delivered; a mere glance at the stats is all that’s needed to see who lost in the back and forth.
Which, all told, is why the Warriors are ahead in the best-of-seven set-to: They’re a handful in any case, but especially tough to beat when Curry is at his finest. Given his range and handles, he requires extra attention, and the ensuing gravitational pull triggers the motion offense that has been the hallmark of the defending champions’ competitiveness. Durant or no, they go where he goes, and judging from the way he played yesterday, he’s going places.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.