BOSTON — There were seconds left in Stephen Curry’s NBA season when he spotted his father, Dell, sitting along one of the baselines. He went to kiss herthen fell to the court in tears.
“Surreal,” Curry said. “I just wanted to enjoy the moment because it was so special.”
Over the course of six NBA Finals games, Curry had provided Golden State with a narrow range of feats from the extraordinary to the sublime. He squeezed through the walls of defenders for high-down layups and backpedaled for fadeaway jumpers. It captivated some fans while demoralizing others. He sought the spotlight, then delivered.
He effectively turned the pitch into his personal theater and the Celtics into his helpless foils, delivering performance after performance in a two-week run whose only flaw was that almost anyone could start anticipating the end – with Curry leaving the stage as champion again. .
After Golden State beat Boston, 103-90, on Thursday to clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, Curry, 34, reflected on the long journey back to the top: the lopsided injuries and losses, the skeptics and the uncertainty. He also recalled the exact moment he started preparing for the start of this season – 371 days ago.
“These last two months of the playoffs, the last three years, the last 48 hours — it’s all been an emotional roller coaster on and off the ground,” Curry said, “and you wear it all on a daily basis to try to achieve a dream and a goal as we did tonight.
Numbers tell a story, and they deserve to be highlighted. For the series, Curry averaged 31.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. He was unanimously selected as the most valuable player in the final.
“He carried us,” said Golden State’s Draymond Green, “and we’re here as champions.”
But there was also artistry in Curry’s work on the show, and it was a profound reminder of all he’s done to reshape the way fans – and even other gamers – think about the game. The way he stretches the terrain with his interplanetary shot. The way he uses post players to create space with pick-and-rolls. The way he has boosted the self-esteem of little players around the world.
“When I go home to Milwaukee and watch my AAU team play and practice, everyone wants to be Steph,” Golden State’s Kevon Looney said. “Everyone wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like, ‘Man, you gotta work a little harder to shoot like him. I see him every day.’
For two seasons, of course, following Golden State’s disastrous, injury-spoiled journey to the 2019 Finals, some of that joy was missing. The Warriors struggled through a slow rebuild.
The team put the pieces back together this season, but there were no guarantees. Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a sprained left foot, then aggravated the injury in Game 3 of the Finals. All he did in Game 4 was score 43 points to help Golden State tie the series at two games apiece.
He showed he was deadly in Game 5, missing all nine of his 3-point attempts, but his supporting cast filled the void. Among them: Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, who developed their games during Golden State’s non-playoff break and were indispensable in the playoffs.
“Our young guys were confident we could come back to this point and win,” Curry said. “And even though it didn’t make sense to anyone when we said it, it all matters.”
For Game 6 on Thursday, Curry pulled out the full buffet. He used a fake pump to send the Celtics’ Al Horford flying towards an expensive row of seats. He lured defenders into traps and sent passes to teammates. And after a big flurry in the third quarter, he glared at the crowd and pointed with his ring finger. (Translation: He was ready for more jewelry.)
Curry began to get emotional when Boston coach Ime Udoka called up his reserves from the bench with just over a minute to play, conceding the series and the championship. Standing alone in the middle of the field, Curry seemed to be laughing and crying at the same time, a euphoric mix of feelings.
“You imagine what the emotions will be like, but it hits differently,” he said.
In a sports world devoured by talk shows, uninformed opinions and social media criticism, two – unfair – asterisks seemed to follow Curry like vapors. The first was that he neither helped his team win a title without Kevin Durant nor defeated an opponent in the finals who were full. The second was that he hadn’t been named Finals MVP.
Whether he cares or not, Curry effectively quashed both of those stories against the Celtics, a team that had all of its young stars in uniform and even had the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart passing a good part of the series with his arm tucked inside Curry’s jersey.
For his part, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s resume is missing only one accomplishment: an Olympic gold medal. (It should be noted that Kerr coaches the United States Men’s National Team.)
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Kerr said deadpan. “Honestly, the whole Finals MVP thing? I guess his career has been so flawless, and that’s the only thing we can actually find. So it’s good to check that box for him. But it’s really hard for me to think that it was held against him.
After the game, as Golden State’s players and coaches began to gather on a stage for the trophy presentation, Curry hugged them, one by one.
“Back to the top, 30!” Looney said, referring to Curry’s uniform number.
Then, as Curry headed for a pitchside tunnel, persistent fans clamored to get closer to the pitch, closer to Curry, before he disappeared from view. He chewed a victory cigar as he held his Finals MVP trophy aloft, pushing it skyward one, two, three times.
No one could miss it.