It ended the way so many Golden State Warriors Finals games end: the final few seconds running down, the ball being held, eyes on the shot clock … the game clock no longer relevant. And often it’s in Steph Curry’s hands, from which so many good things emanate.
But that wasn’t the case Thursday night in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Yes, Curry added another line on his personal statistical resume – his second of four three-pointers made last night was the 100th of his career, something no other NBA player has ever done – but at the end he was the one standing around waiting for the clock to run down on a loss, glancing up at the scoreboard and shaking his head. Someone else had the ball. Someone else was waiting to celebrate. Later, as he sat down at the media room podium with a frown and a quick glance at the stats sheet, he offered that the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam “pretty much found a bucket wherever he was at.”
Hey, that’s your calling card, no?
This was Curry’s 175th career 30-point performance – 34 on this night, to be exact, on 8-of-18 from the field, 4-for-9 from three and a perfect 18-for-18 from the line that was one shy of Terry Porter’s NBA Finals record. But there was never really that signature run, or even a signature play from other, perhaps, than his first trey two minutes into the game when Andre Iguodala whipped a pass to him in the corner. This was the Warriors first loss in five Game 1s of a Final Series under head coach Steve Kerr. They averaged 112 points in those previous five games, and won by an average of 14 points. Not tonight.
“New experiences for us, all the way through,” said Curry.
Curry represents a bit of a challenge not just for the Raptors but for their fans. His father Dell, of course, is a much-beloved former Raptor who was among a group of Raptors alumni acknowledged between quarters. Steph is kind of, sort of, one of us, having played briefly at Queensway Christian High School when his dad was here, but beyond that you pretty much have to be a fun-sucker of the highest order to not dig him. You can hate on Kevin Durant and Draymond Green – who, predictably, got into it with Drake at the end of the game. But by the time you work your way down to Curry, it’s hard to have much bitterness left. The boos in the pre-game introductions are of the “it’s what you do to the visiting star variety.”
Drake sat courtside in his usual seat wearing a throwback Raptors jersey with Dell’s No. 30 on it. He appeared to pluck some lint off his head when the two came face-to-face. It was a sublime bit of trolling, really; a no autopsy/no foul kind of thing.
Curry was coming off a Western Finals performance that was remarkable even by his standards, averaging 36.5 points in a four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, the second-highest scoring average in a Western Finals since Amar’e Stoudamire averaged 37.0 points in 2005. Curry’s 146 points were the most-ever in a four-game sweep and the Warriors performance in that series without the injured Kevin Durant had folks (including Steph’s brother Seth, of the Trail Blazers) suggesting that the team might actually be quicker and by extension more difficult to play against without Durant. Translation: at the end of the day this was and is, still, Steph’s team.
But the Raptors threw a variety of looks at Curry in this one. Marc Gasol double-teamed him three times outside the arc in the first half, contributing to a two-point second quarter, with Fred VanVleet’s defence on him coming out for special mention by Raptors head coach Nick Nurse in his post-game media session. Curry said the Warriors can get by without Durant if others step up. What he meant was somebody other than himself.
Curry, like the rest of the Warriors and their head coach, were quick to credit Siakam for his breakout performance. Curry said he “liked the vibe” in the Warriors locker-room, but the talking points in their locker-room also had to do with some of their regular-season bugaboos: turnovers and transition defence.
Plus that 10-day break. As ESPN’s Hubie Brown noted: one of the reasons the Warriors have success is that when Klay Thompson and Curry have it going they simply create a sense of mental and physical fatigue in their opponent. “Their binges,” he called them. So you’d have thought that maybe those fresh legs – plus the fact the Raptors needed six games to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Final – would leave the Raptors susceptible.
Kerr responded with a quick “doesn’t matter” when asked about his team’s lay-off after the Western Finals – repeating it when asked about Durant’s absence. But Curry wasn’t as dismissive.
“I think the first half, after that 10-day break, it was a little bit sloppier than we might have thought … but we still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter and they did what they’re supposed to do on their home floor and close out the game,” Curry said.
“Couple of sloppy turnovers that really didn’t kill us, but just added to their momentum. We just need to take away some buckets and control the momentum better.”
VanVleet suggested that the Raptors plan of attack was to focus on Thompson and Curry and make them work for their threes even with the understanding that many of those are going to fall in. But when they do hit one or two, VanVleet added, the key is to “go down and score. Just try to minimize as much as possible.”
And so Game 1 is in the books with a different result and a different taste for Curry and his teammates. There was Green, asking everybody to lay the blame for Siakam’s performance on him and vowing to take him out of the series; promising a better Game 2. The talk today will no doubt hinge on whether this game was some kind of referendum on Durant, with the ancillary questions as to when he can or will return and all the other stuff that comes with that.
Steph’s team or K.D.’s team is a different debate when it’s held against the backdrop of a deficit against an opponent that the Warriors admit they don’t know all that well, compared to the giddy atmosphere of a four-game sweep. Yet that’s where they are this morning.