SACRAMENTO — Stephen Curry’s epic Game 7 performance — in which his 50 points set a record for a game winner or come home — actually began Saturday morning. Long before the Warriors’ 120-100 win over the Kings.
He was so angry after their Game 6 loss on Friday night, when they squandered a chance to clinch with a mindless loss at Chase Center. He was so disgusted with the way they were playing, so disappointed with the division they let in. Curry couldn’t sleep.
When he gave up trying and got up, before the sun even came up, he checked his phone and saw a text at 3:45 a.m. Turns out Draymond Green couldn’t sleep either.
They exchanged messages about their embarrassment, about how Kings goaltender Malik Monk called them old, about the fractured focus they witnessed in their group. Green was ready to talk to the team, to try to galvanize the peloton. But Curry had enough to tell Green, “let me take this one.” That was all Green needed to hear.
Before Saturday’s movie showing began, Curry stood in front of the group. In the glass-walled atrium on the ninth floor of the Chase Center, a space known as “Above the Rim” that overlooks the bay, he had their full attention.
“I don’t even talk much,” Curry told the team, “but I have something to say.”
His speeches are rare. His pep talks are mostly one-on-one. His teammates consider it rare, but when he speaks, everyone explicitly listens.
This speech, however, will become part of his legend. The prelude to perfection.
Even though he’s one of the guys, Curry still has an aura in the Warriors locker room. They see his humility, his jovial nature and his approachability. But they know who he is, who they can play with. His respect is irreproachable. They recognize a legend among them.
“It’s that guy,” Gary Payton II said in his locker after the game. “So when he speaks, everyone better listen. Because 30 is usually calm and lets his game speak for itself. But he had to say what he had to say, because he knew what kind of vibe it was…and I don’t think he wanted to give up on that one. So he led and we followed.
The reason they listen was on display at the Golden 1 Center on Sunday. In 38 minutes, Curry snatched hope from the Kings. In 38 strokes, Curry reminded the world of his greatness.
And when he was done, he was telling raucous Kings fans that they weren’t ready for the wrath of a legend. He dropped 50 and then was looking for 50 Cent to ignite the beam. But this afternoon, it wouldn’t be a violet laser piercing the sky. Instead, a blue and gold goat signal.
Curry averaged 31 points on 22.3 shooting over the first six games of the series. The Warriors had edged the Kings by 33 points in his minutes before Game 7. On Sunday, he had 27 shots in three quarters. By the time he checked in for good with 2:39 remaining, he was plus-25. The same kings who seemed so close to bringing down the defending champions suddenly seemed so far removed from the level reached by the warriors.
“At this point, he’s reminding people for no reason,” Jordan Poole said, “He’s got the same edge as any of the other greats. Mamba Mentality, that’s all s—. Steph understood that th—. It’s is what makes him so special. Maybe his approach is a little different from the other guys, but we know he’s a killer. Everyone in the world knows he’s a killer.
But the Warriors didn’t win just because of Curry’s 50. They won because, unlike Game 6 at Chase Center, they were locked in for the biggest game of the season yet. Their team’s defense held Sacramento to 42 points in the second half. They were united as they faced the emboldened young kings, faced the frenzied crowd, shouldered the pressure to keep their dynasty alive.
And they were together because Curry made sure of it. With what a few of his teammates called the biggest speech of his career.
“It gave me chills,” said Andrew Wiggins. “No. 30, he’s different, man.
According to multiple sources during the private session, Curry told the team that he believed in them, that they had enough to win. He asked for their trust in return. He assured them that he could achieve victory if they all accepted. He implored them to put all feelings aside – which sources with knowledge of the locker room say was a message to Poole, Jonathan Kuminga and other lads who may have been unhappy. for reasons such as play time and role – and getting locked into the Unified Mission. Anyone who wanted to stay in their emotions, he told them to stay home. Everyone who was ready for their vacation, he told them not to get on the bus to Sacramento. But whoever got on the bus, Curry took that as a sign of approval, a binding agreement to be on the mission. And if they did that, if they got on the bus, he promised he would deliver. With his game, his faith, their solidarity, they would win.
Because of who he is and how infrequently he does it, it hit in a way that only Curry could pull off. He saved the Warriors season before Game 7 even started.
“You’re in that space where you’re going to bed or you’re going to get up,” Green said, his voice rising excitedly as he relived the speech. “Once he does that, you have no choice but to stand up. He was able to lock everyone up. “If you get on that bus, you are committing to this team. It doesn’t matter if you play zero minutes or 40 minutes. You agree to do whatever it takes. Prepare your mind and body for this opportunity that we have. We were embarrassed the other night and we never go out like this.
Kevon Looney – who had his own career night, grabbing 20 or more rebounds for the third time in this series – said he knew it was over when Curry, early in the game, went off a screen. He wanted to go iso. This usually means that his aggression is at maximum, that he sees a weakness and wants to attack it.
He had 20 points at halftime. He went to Terence Davis, who replaced Davion Mitchell on Curry as the Kings looked for more space and shooting. And when it wasn’t Davis, Curry was luring Keegan Murray to him. But, quite on the mark, it was in the third quarter that Curry stepped on the accelerator. He scored 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting in the quarter, leading the way in turning a small Kings halftime lead into a 10-point advantage.
Suddenly, it is the Kings who look nervous, who feel the pressure of the moment. They started to look like so many others in that championship era, when the weight of the Warriors finally crushed them. Chris Paul’s Clippers. James Harden’s Rockets. Damian Lillard’s Blazers. The thunder of Kevin Durant. The LeBron James Cavaliers. Ja Morant’s grizzlies. Jayson Tatum’s Celtics. And now the De’Aaron Fox Kings.
The Warriors weren’t playing the fires. Wiggins, whose 17 points were the next highest for the Warriors, missed enough layups and free throws to leave him frustrated. Klay Thompson was 4 for 19. The Warriors got just 18 points from their bench and again made less than a third of their 3-pointers. That’s not counting a season full of drama they dragged around like baggage. The cracks that were ready to open. Legs that are tired and lack size.
What the Warriors had, however, was Curry and a new found unit. They had a promise of one of the greatest of all time and a bus loaded with commitment.
When Curry finished his call to the team, he gave the floor to anyone who had something to add. He started the seminal moment but was ready to share with a teammate.
But it was not necessary. After Curry speaks, nothing more needs to be said.
“Enough, said champion!” Green yelled in response to Curry. “Nobody has anything! That’s it. What else can be said?”
The only conversation left to do was on the pitch.
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(Top photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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