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How Steph Curry and the Warriors Reclaimed Their Crown

The greatest compliment you can give Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors is that they made this seem pretty ordinary. Over the last few seasons, the Warriors have been as snakebitten as any team in the league, felled by injuries and unable to muster enough serotonin to muscle through mid-winter midwestern road trips. But as the Warriors polished off the Boston Celtics with a 103-90 Game 6 win, all that seemed to melt away—the ghosts of previous disappointments were finally able to pass through to the other side. 

In this sense, when Klay Thompson is pumping in dagger 3s, it’s easy to forget that he missed two full seasons and over 900 days with a torn ACL and a ruptured Achilles; there was once a world where Gary Payton II was prepping to join the Warriors as a video coordinator and Andrew Wiggins was a flighty near-bust, but it feels far removed from the one we live in now.  For most teams, a championship requires some elusive potion of talent and luck; for the Warriors, winning seems like kismet. They were great and then they were bad and now—will you look at that!—they’re great once again. In its first post-COVID season, the NBA’s new normal looks a lot like its old normal. Real 2015 vibes, indeed.

“These last two months of the playoffs, the last three years, these last 48 hours—every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” Curry said after the game. “And you get goosebumps just thinking about, you know, all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here, individually, collectively. And that’s why I said I think this championship hits different. That’s why I have so many emotions, and still will, just because of what it took to get back here.”

While this Warriors’ championship run is painted as a story of transformation, every scintilla of Golden State’s success was enabled by Curry’s constancy. Yes, their sclerotic supporting cast from 2019 turned over and gave way to a new cast of contributors, but the Warriors reemerged as a powerhouse because of what stayed the same. Namely, everything works because Steph Curry, just as he’s done for years, makes everything work. 

All the adjustments and improvements that helped lift the Warriors out of the NBA’s working class can be traced back to Curry. Even during their listless playoffs-less season last year, Curry’s individual brilliance kept them philosophically coherent, giving the likes of Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins the time and space to adapt to the Warriors’ scheme; it’s hard to imagine Wiggins morphing into an elite glue guy or Jordan Poole doing a solid Steph Curry impression without last season serving as a protracted rehearsal dinner. Curry isn’t a system player; he’s a system, player

If Curry last year provided the Warriors with a nurturing floor, his efforts in the Finals showed just how high he can raise their ceiling. Save for a Game 5 stinker, Curry was at his imperial best against the Celtics, averaging 31.2 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and taking home his first Finals MVP as a result. Pitted against the upper-case Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and a historically dominant Boston defense led by Robert Williams (the actual, lower-case defensive player of the year), Curry made them all look like chumps. Boston hung back in drop coverage against the pick-and-roll, daring Curry to beat them with pull-up threes—so he did. 

This was peak Curry, blending the kinetic cutting that kick-started the Warriors’ dynasty and the on-ball assertiveness that has sustained it; he was simultaneously the best off-screen shooter and the best pull-up shooter in the playoffs. To their credit, Boston mounted an admirable effort to stem Curry’s scoring alluvia. Still, Curry is so deadly that he ensures that any minor success is a qualitative, rather than quantitative one. As Boston discovered, it doesn’t really matter if you contest shots and force Curry to hoist prayers over a seven-footer from a furlong away from the hoop because he’s still going to make them. 

Accordingly, the Warriors won Game 6—and the Larry O’B—by breaking Boston in quotidien, cumulative ways. On a second by second basis, playing the Warriors is exhausting, equal parts three-card monty and boot camp obstacle course. With Curry and Thompson and Poole scampering about, defenders must be able to instinctually communicate and download instructions, toggling assignments between all five players on the fly. It’s tricky enough to do that once, let alone six times on one possession, let alone on 100 possessions during an entire game. To wit, the Warriors’ super power is their ability to compound minor mistakes into game-ending runs—a few minutes of sloppiness is enough to spark a 21-0 Golden State run; a couple of botched assignments and Curry will put you to bed with a title-clinching 13 point fourth quarter.  

Now that Steph Curry has earned his first Finals MVP and secured the last piece of meaningful hardware that’s eluded him, it’s naturally time to reconsider his place in the NBA’s pantheon. At the very least, he’s graduated from some spot in the nebulous top ten discussion and entered the Secret Beef Room of true greatness alongside Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain (conversely, Klay Thompson made room for very public beef of his own). Whereas matters of “legacy” and things of that nature are a distracting sideshow, every Warrior seemed acutely aware of how important this series was to them. It was a matter of revenge against the doubters, but also redemption for both the team’s principles and its principals. 

“There were a lot of tears shed,” said Thompson in a post-game interview. “I knew it was a possibility. But to see it in real time, holy cannoli.”

How sweet it is.  

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Sports

Every Steph Curry 40 Point Playoff Game

Steph Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. No one has put the ball in the basket from beyond the arc more than him, or done it as efficiently. In game four of this year’s NBA finals, Steph Curry hit the 40 point mark for the seventh time in his career. That performance ties him for fifth with Russell Westbrook among active players to reach 40 points in a playoff game. Here is every Steph Curry 40 point playoff game.

2013 Western Conference Semifinals vs. San Antonio Spurs
Game 1: 44 points, 11 assists, 6/14 from three
(Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)

The 2013 postseason would be the first time Steph Curry ever saw the floor in an NBA playoff game. After taking out the Denver Nuggets in the first round, Steph and the Warriors would square off against defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. Game one of this series would be an all-time playoff game. After a back-and-forth first four quarters, the game would be pushed into double overtime. The Warriors held a one-point lead with just under four seconds left when Manu Ginobili hit a catch-and-shoot three to take a 129-127 lead. The Spurs would go on to win the series 4-2 and eventually capture another championship.

2015 Western Conference First Round vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Game 3: 40 points, 9 assists, 7/18 from three

During the 2015 regular season, Steph Curry became a household name breaking the three point single-season record and winning his first MVP. The first place Warriors were primed for a title run. In their first game playing in New Orleans with a 2-0 series lead, Steph Curry dropped his second career 40 point playoff game. The Pelicans would fight relentlessly all game but Curry would push the game into overtime with a contested corner three to tie the game. They had no answer for Curry who scored 7 of the Warriors 15 overtime points. The Warriors would go on to sweep the Pelicans.

2015 Western Conference Finals vs. Houston Rockets
Game 3: 40 points, 7 assists, 7/9 from three

Steph was so dominant in 2015 that it is his only playoff run to have multiple 40 point games. The second 40 point performance would happen during game 3 of the conference finals. The Warriors headed to Houston with a 2-0 lead and looked unstoppable up to this point. Game 3 would be no difference as Steph Curry would shoot 77% from three in a blowout 115-80 win. Steph was so dominant that 37 of his 40 points came in the first three quarters alone. The Warriors would go on to win the series 4-1 and Curry would eventually capture his first NBA championship.

2016 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Portland Trailblazers
Game 4: 40 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds

Although the 2016 playoffs may be tough for Steph Curry to look back on, as they would blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals, he still had some all-time performances along the way. In the first round of these playoffs Curry would sprain his knee and be sidelined for a few weeks, missing the first three games of the second round against the Blazers. In game three Damian Lillard took advantage of the injured Warriors team and dropped his own 40 point game to bring the series 2-1 in favor of the Warriors. Game 4 would see Steph Curry’s return and it was one of epic proportions. Coming off the bench, Steph Curry would nearly drop a 40 point triple-double with 17 of those points coming in the five minute overtime period. The Warriors would win 132-125 and eventually win the series 4-1.

2017 Western Conference Finals vs. San Antonio Spurs
Game 1: 40 points, 7 rebounds, 7/16 from three

Curry and the Warriors would finally get their rematch against the Spurs in 2017. Kawhi Leonard was coming off a terrific season finishing top three in MVP voting. The Warriors were looking like an immovable train on their way to another championship with newly added superstar Kevin Durant. The Warriors would go down by 20 in the first half of game 1 before Leonard would go down with an injury. Curry and the Warriors would take advantage and win the game 113-111 behind Steph Curry’s 40 point 7 rebound performance.

2019 NBA Finals vs. Toronto Raptors
Game 3: 47 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds

Steph Curry’s career high in the playoffs would come amidst the worst injury bug the Warriors have dealt with maybe ever. Kevin Durant was suffering from a nagging leg injury and Klay Thompson was also battling through injuries. Both were forced to sit out game 3 of the finals and Curry was left with the task of taking down Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors himself. He would have a generational performance dropping 47 points and a near triple-double. The Warriors would lose the game 123-109. Thompson and Durant would attempt to come back and play but would both suffer much worse injuries and the Warriors lost the series 4-2.

2022 NBA Finals vs. Boston Celtics
Game 4: 43 points, 10 rebounds, 7-14 from three

No single player has more riding on this year’s NBA finals than Steph Curry. He knows to truly be mentioned with the greats he needs a final’s MVP trophy, and he’s done just about everything he can to earn it. Heading to Boston down 2-1, the Warriors title hopes were looking dim. Curry took his game to the next level scoring 43 points among a flurry of deep threes. The Warriors head to Boston for game six with a 3-2 series lead behind Curry’s 30.6 scoring average in the finals. If the Warriors can close out the series, Steph Curry will undoubtedly win his first finals MVP.

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Sports

Steph Curry Can Be A Conventional Superstar, Too

Stephen Curry is not like those other stars. He’s not Lebron James, dictating the movement of the other nine players on the court like a traffic cop; he’s not Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, who turned isolation scoring into high-stakes morality plays. In his game, there’s none of the dribble-dribble-dribble burden that James Harden and Luka Doncic carry, nor the rimward aggression that’s made Giannis Antetokounmpo the reigning Finals MVP. Instead, Curry’s signature play is him running around, playing tag with his defender until he finally gets open enough that Draymond Green passes him the ball, which he then almost immediately shoots. 

Whereas other stars usually provide every signal and cue for their team, Curry has never really had to shoulder that same ball-dominating load. Playing alongside Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Green, Curry was long able to follow his bliss, the hardwood version of a trust-fund kid being free to become an artist or a public defender or, uh, a sports blogger rather than joining a money-making, soul-sucking corporate machine.

For the first time since the beginning of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty in 2014/2015, Curry is playing the exact style that he’s long eschewed. While a simple Curry pick-and-roll has always been the Warriors’ ace-in-the-hole, it’s been shelved only for the most important moments—abusing it would be indecorous, if not downright gauche. But piloting a barren roster against a historically great Boston Celtics’ defense that’s daring Curry to beat them on his own, he’s ramped up his pick-and-roll volume to career-high levels. During his virtuosic Game 4, Curry ran 45 pick-and-rolls, after ending just 6.7 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler during the regular season. In doing so, Curry poured in 43 of the most impressive points in NBA history.

The thing that makes Curry such a dangerous pick-and-roll player is that he turns normal defensive schemes into utter nonsense. NBA defenses are calibrated to address a specific list of possible problems, none of which are relevant against Curry. Trying to guard Curry the same way you’d guard DJ Augustin or Chris Paul is about as effective as trying to defeat an earthquake with karate; there’s not much you can do once your entire team is dragged out onto unsteady, shifting ground. 

If most teams focus on limiting Curry at the expense of letting his costars run amok, the Celtics have done the inverse. Accordingly, they’re the first team in recent postseason memory to play drop coverage against Curry and the Warriors, albeit a bastardized version of drop coverage where the big man still ventures way out beyond the three-point line. This is not only a bet on their personnel to hold their own against Curry, but that it’s not humanly possible to win a playoff series with a heavy diet of vertiginous 30-foot pull-up jumpers. It just can’t be, right?

So far, the answer is that it might be. On a macro-level, the Celtics are holding the Warriors’ offense to just 110.5 points per 100 possessions, down from 117.8 points during their first three series. Through four games, Boston has more or less excised once-dangerous guys like Draymond Green and Jordan Poole from the run of play; the Celtics have refused to cede the space behind Curry that the other Warriors need to thrive.

On a micro-level, the Celtics are getting torched by Curry—his 34.3 points per game and 66.3 percent True Shooting have him on pace to claim his first Finals MVP, whether Golden State wins a ring or not. No matter how far out Boston sends its bigs to pick up Curry, they leave him with too much space. By the very nature of playing drop, the big man has to backpedal as Curry approaches, creating a window for Curry to fire.  

Over the last eight years, the Warriors have played unlike any other team in the NBA. Within their own little walled garden around Curry, the Warriors have shut out the headwinds of heliocentrism and spread pick-and-rolls. Under Steve Kerr, Golden State plays a unique, beautiful and inimitable style of basketball because they have Curry and nobody else does. Curry’s mastery of the extraordinary won the Warriors the Western Conference; his comfort with the ordinary has them in position to win the Finals. 

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Sports Strength

Is a Golden State Warriors’ Championship Inevitable This Season?

After a brief two-season sojourn as a normal basketball team, the Golden State Warriors have once again decided to simply stop losing games. At 18-2, the Warriors have revived their brand of incandescent goodness; their +13.6 average margin of victory is the highest in NBA history. Even if Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are the only truly meaningful holdovers from Golden State’s dynastic outfits of the late 2010s (at least until Klay Thompson returns), the Warriors have proven to be a Ship-of-Theseus-ass team, silently replenishing their rotation with productive, well-fitting pieces. This isn’t the exact same Warriors’ team in either form or function, but it hums at a similar frequency nonetheless.  

In this sense, this year’s roster is essentially unchanged from last year’s playoffs-missing squad—nearly every member of last year’s rotation has returned besides Kelly Oubre Jr. But if last season felt like a semi-convincing cover band strumming their way through the Warriors’ catalog, this year marks the return of the genuine article; their minor offseason tweaks have borne major results. At the most basic level, the Golden State Warriors look like the, uh, Golden State Warriors. They’ve become so comfortable with their dominance that their historic greatness feels quotidien; they play with such precision that even their characteristic whimsy carries a casual cruelty.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are fueled by the twin genius of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. In fact, Curry and Green have the best net-rating of any high-minutes duo in the NBA, outscoring opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions when they share the court. To a degree, they represent inversions of each other: Curry is the greatest and most unique offensive player of this generation and Green is the greatest and most unique defensive presence; Curry stresses enemy defenses to the point of rupture and Green ensures the continued stability of Golden State’s own defense. 

Like a shirt from Dan Flashes, the Warriors’ offense is so good because it’s so complicated.  Split cuts, horns sets, short rolls: they’re playing the hits. Whereas Curry’s contemporaries like James Harden or Damian Lillard derive most of their value from their ball dominance, Curry is the league’s leading scorer in large part because he’s an active and incendiary cutter without the ball—he scores an NBA-best 5.8 points per game from off-screen actions alone. Guarding the Warriors tests the limits of human perception. You need to be ever-vigilant to shadow Curry as he traces his cursive path through the frontcourt and then you also have to navigate the latticework of screens that he dips through and then you also have to account for the battery of screens that he sets and then you also have to hedge aggressively if Curry shakes free and then also—oh, shit, somebody lost sight of Gary Payton II and he’s soaring for yet another dunk. 

As such, the Warriors have filled out their rotation with a mix of veterans and young guys who can capably splash around in Curry’s wake. Since Curry alone demands so much attention, it’s more important that the rest of the Warriors can find ways to frolic in pre-made open space than that they create it themselves. For the most part, they’ve eschewed conventional wisdom, prioritizing know-how and off-ball savvy over monochromatic spot-up shooters with perfunctory ball skills.

In this fertile biome, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins have enjoyed career-best seasons as Curry’s primary support staff. A zippy third-year shooting guard, Poole has emerged as the early favorite to be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, averaging 18.1 points per game in the process. Similarly, Wiggins racks up 19 points per game as he works to shed the torpidity that’s prevented him from truly becoming Maple Jordan and finds his footing as a souped-up role player rather than a putative star. Together, Poole and Wiggins introduce some shot-making chutzpah to an offense that can sometimes become worryingly Curry-centric. The pair may be relative newcomers to Golden State, but both have internalized the wending cadence of the Warriors’ system and expertly buzz into open spaces to attack preoccupied defenses.

While the Warriors’ offense is excellent in a familiar way (second best in the league, per Cleaning the Glass), their defense is ahistorically stingy, as evidenced by their 100.1 defensive rating, the lowest mark that any team has posted since people still played Pokemon Go. The primary reason: Draymond Green is trying hard again. 

“My son is getting older, my oldest daughter — she’s 7 now — they kind of get on my ass if we lose,” Green said in a press conference. “So that’s motivation. And I think for me also, I’ve been shit the last couple years, so my kids don’t really understand how good I am. And I want them to see how good I am so they’ll have an understanding.”

When he’s fully engaged, Green is the best defensive player alive. Sure, he maybe isn’t a spring-loaded, muscle-clad Adonis like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Bam Adebayo, but Green defangs offenses in subtler, headier ways: he’s more of a deadener than a defender, quietly sapping the offense of any oomph. He’s a basketball savant with instincts that border on clairvoyance—he can suss out the signal from the noise on any given possession and stymie actions before they really begin in earnest. Beyond his virtues as a one-on-one stopper or his switchability against the pick-and-roll, Green’s greatest strength is the way that he simplifies the game for his teammates with his intelligence and versatility. Just as Curry sustains their offense, Green ensures the Warriors maintain their institutional identity on defense.

As the season creeps over the quarter-mark, the Warriors are a testament to the virtues of self-actualization. They may not have the most depth or the most sheer talent, but they rebooted their roster to create an ensemble that can operate free from any drag or inertia. In a league that’s increasingly topsy-turvy, the Warriors reaffirmed their elite status by reaffirming their commitment to themselves.

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Sports Strength

Ranking The Ten Best NBA-Inspired Lyrics In Hip-Hop

If you’ve been around sports and hip-hop long enough, then you’ve come across this quote– “Rappers want to be like athletes, and the athletes want to be like rappers.” The two very influential entities, specifically basketball and hip hop, have a special chemistry. It has become familiar as the sunlight to find our favorite rappers sitting courtside at games or our favorite players quoting their lyrics. But their relationship is sustained by tributes (or plain disrespect); rappers pay homage to ballplayers in their songs, which sparks another round of conversations.

Down below are the ten best NBA-inspired lyrics from hip-hop.

1. Ice Cube, “Today Was A Good Day,” 1992 –

“Get me on the court and I’m trouble.

Last week f—– around and got a triple-double.

Freaking n—– every way like MJ.

I can’t believe today was a good day.”

2. Jay-Z, “Encore,” 2003 –

“As fate would have it, Jay’s status appears.

To be at an all-time high, perfect time to say goodbye.

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5.

It ain’t to play games with you, it’s to aim at you, probably maim you.”

3. Drake, “Thank Me Now,” 2010 –

“I can relate to kids going straight to the league.

When they recognize that you got what it takes to succeed.

And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals.

You make friends with Mike but got to ‘A.I.’ him for your survival.”

4. Lil Wayne, “Kobe Bryant,” 2009 –

“Kobe doin’ work, 2–4 on my shirt.

He the greatest on the court and I’m the greatest on the verse.

Going for the fourth ring like it was his first.

Gotta get the bling, do it for Kareem.”

5. Jay-Z, “Pump It Up (Remix),” 2003 –

“Go ahead, bug out, I’ll Raid, n—-, scurry.

Worry, I’m, not, the Mike Jordan of the mic recording.

It’s Hovi, baby, you Kobe, maybe; Tracy McGrady.

Matter-fact, you a Harold Miner.

J.R. Rider, washed up on marijuana.

Even worse, you a Pervis Ellis.

You worthless, fella; you ain’t no athlete, you Shawn Bradley.”

Getty Images

6. Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part IV,” 2017 –

“Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look.

You jumped sides on me, now you ‘bout to meet Westbrook.

Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you.

Just know the next game played I might slap the s— out you.”

7. J. Cole, “Return of Simba,” 2011 –

Ced said, ‘Look, my n—–, we got a foot in’.

Being good is good, that’ll get you Drew Gooden.

But me, I want Jordan numbers, LeBron footin’.

Can’t guard me, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden.”

8. Jadakiss, “Put Your Hands Up,” 2001 –

“And y’all scared I can tell.

That I’ma get Bucks like Milwaukee, cause like Sam, I ca’ sell.”

9. Kanye West, “New God Flow,” 2012 –

“Went from most hated to the champion god flow.

I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know.”

10. Drake, “0 to 100 / The Catch Up,” 2014 –

“I’ve been Steph Curry with the shot.

Been cooking with the sauce.

Chef Curry with the pot, boy… 360 with the wrist, boy!”