The moment had to be poignant, and painful. The finishing blow of the NBA Finals was delivered not by Stephen Curry — a man who makes his bones bagging three-pointers at record rates — but by Kyrie Irving, over Stephen Curry. If last night was LeBron’s “Drop the mic” moment, then perhaps it was also Curry’s “Welcome to LeBron’s orbit” moment.
Since Stephen Curry’s rise was so quick and acute, we haven’t had a chance to find any flaws in his game. Not only did he become the NBA’s darling, the Currys became the first family of basketball. Now he gets a mouthful of the bitter, abject analysis that has dogged LeBron for a decade.
Curry’s stat line is hardly MVP-worthy: 17 points; 4-14 from 3-point range; 5 rebounds; 2 assists; 4 turnovers. He had more turnovers last night than points in the fourth quarter (3). And now comes the ignominy of being just the second reigning MVP to lose game 7 of NBA Finals at home.
If the NBA MVP voting feels like old news to us, it must still feel fresh and bloody to LeBron, whose Finals numbers dwarfed those of the game’s titular star. LeBron averaged 29.7 points; 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists. He shot 53.3 percent from the field. Compare that to Curry, who averaged 22.6 points; 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He shot 40 percent from the field, and had more turnovers than assists for the series.
There’s nothing wrong with being the second best player to LeBron James. The problem is Curry won NBA MVP by unanimous vote, which was a supreme slap to LeBron’s face. Jordan never won a unanimous MVP. Neither did Russell. Or Magic. Or Wilt. Or Bird.
Once the teams were tied, 89-89, they went 1-for-17 from the field. While LeBron may not have gotten hot from the field, he had the block of the young century on Andre Iguodala. When Curry runs cold, there isn’t another way he can energize his team. He doesn’t have LeBron’s hardwood tool belt.
In fact, Curry didn’t get Finals MVP last year, when the Warriors beat the Cavs. (Andre Iguodala did.) Had the Warriors won last night, most felt that Draymond Green would have bagged the MVP award. So it’s understandable why some folks aren’t ready to hand Curry King James’s crown.
Curry is a divine talent. The world just needs to relax when it comes to Curry’s place in any pantheon. Let the young man grow into a basketball legend before drafting his Hall of Fame speech.
The good news is the Warriors are likely to be here next year. Indeed, Vegas has already installed the Warriors as 7-4 favorites to win the NBA title in 2017. The Splash Brothers are still young, wildly gifted, mature and malleable enough to learn from last night.
The Warriors won 73 games and had three chances to clinch the NBA championship, two of which they lost on their home court. So it’s a little myopic to declare this season some kind of horror.
They’re the first team to lose as many playoff games as regular-season games (9). Folks may find this quirky stat to be some kind of blight on the Warriors record. But it speaks more to the sublime season they had than to some wretched playoff failure.
It reminds me of a story Joe Torre told me many years ago. One day during 2002 spring training, a fan asked the Yankees skipper for an autograph. Once Torre obliged, he handed the fan the signed gizmo, and the fan said, “Don’t worry, Joe, you’ll do better next year.” The Yankees had just lost the World Series in the ninth inning of Game 7, and more than a few Yankees fans really considered that result a source of shame.
Likewise, the Warriors were 60 seconds from winning the NBA championship. But they didn’t. This can be a speed bump on their way to a dynasty, or the bookend of a nice, two-year run. How far they go will depend on Steph Curry, as it should.
Stephen Curry is still the prince of the hardwood. He’s just not ready to be king. Or King James.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.