In a game full of clutch play and big crunch time shots, the most critical action of the Golden State Warriors 132-125 overtime victory against the Portland Trail Blazers may have come in the second quarter. According to Coach Steve Kerr, the plan was to ease injured MVP Stephen Curry back into live game action with a restricted 25 minute cap.
That plan got scrapped when point guard Shaun Livingston was ejected. Replay showed that Livingston took a whack to the head during a made layup. Following the non-call, he berated a referee stride for stride all the way down the floor getting back on defense. With 1:36 to play in the second quarter Livingston earned a double technical, and an early trip to the showers.
Livingston’s absence left Coach Kerr in a bind, entrust youngster Ian Clark with heavy minutes in an ultra-important swing game, or take the reign’s off his thoroughbred star earlier than anticipated. The decisions was really no decision at all, unleash the beast.
Curry struggled to recapture his usual form for much of the game. His long range jump shot was uncharacteristically off, missing his first 9 three point attempts. With the deadliest arrow in his quiver suddenly failing him, Curry put on display his vastly improved all-around offensive game. He sliced through the defense with his signature slick handle, and knifed to the rim at will. Curry flashed a variety of silky smooth, acrobatic finishes and a feathery touch in close.
While Curry was still finding his footing the Warriors other stars and depth kept the team afloat. Draymond Green bulldozed to the hoop like a wrecking ball in transition. His brute force coast to coast rim runs drew a handful of trips to the free throw line, layups, and thunderous dunks when the Warriors were in desperately need of offense. During one meaningful sequence that catapulted the Warriors back into the game, Green had huge momentum shifting blocks of Damian Lillard and Mason Plumlee on consecutive possessions.
Klay Thompson also got in on the act. He caught fire from deep, hitting five triples in the game among his 23 points. Thompson added superb defense on Damian Lillard down the stretch. He tirelessly hounded Lillard, harassing the Trail Blazers star into several desperate heaves late.
Hell, even Marreese “Mo Buckets” Speights chipped in 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting, 3 for 3 from beyond the arc. Without the contributions of Green, Thompson, and Speights, what ocurred next might’ve been a moot point.
About half way through the hotly contested 4th quarter the light bulb suddenly flickered back on for Steph Curry. With 4:35 left in the game Steph hit his first three pointer of the game, then another with 2 minutes remaining, cutting Golden States deficit from 4 to 1, down 107-106. He had visibly regained his confidence and found his shot heading into overtime, tied at 111.
In the extra session Curry went full human torch mode, pouring in the Warriors first 12 points and 17 of the team’s 21 overall. Those points 17, by the way, are a new NBA record for individual points scored in an overtime period. At less than full strength Curry finished with 40 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. When the REAL Steph Curry showed up Portland never had a chance, and they probably feared as much.
This overtime annihilation made it official, Stephen Curry is back.
Back was the Baryshnikov tap dancing that frees him from air tight defense. Back were the deflating three pointers he uncorks, and makes, from ungodly spots and distances. Back was that, you can’t stop me, MVP swagger. The effortless brilliance his game exudes when he’s clicking on all cylinders. That came rushing back, too.
Don’t take my word for it. Sticking dagger after dagger into the helpless Trail Blazers, simultaneously crushing the souls of 19,000 Portland fans in attendance, Curry had a message for the crowd. He started thumping his chest, mouthing over and over, “I’m back, I’m back”. He damn sure wasn’t lying.
Without Steph Curry the Warriors are a playoff team, but they’re no title contender. When he’s at his transcendent best, a solid squad turns into the juggernaut, death star that just ripped off the NBA’s first 73 win season. Unfortunately for the Blazers and the rest of the NBA, that Curry, M-V-P Steph Curry, well… He’s baaaaacckkk.