Steph Curry, the league’s best shooter, had an awful Game 3. And that is why his teammate Kevin Durant, the league’s best scorer, now has two MVP trophies while he has none.
That Game 3 was an anomaly for Curry. While he got the same looks at the sky that he had in the first two games, the rainbows he usually outlines with the basketball were either too long or to the right.
He clanked nine straight three-pointers, only ending the drought with less than three minutes left in the game, when he was briefly—and inexplicably—left open during a fastbreak. That shot was huge not just for the struggling Curry, but for the momentum-hungry Golden State Warriors.
Curry’s clutch three, his lone three of the game, opened the floodgates for an Andre Iguodala dunk in the next possession, then a Kevin Durant three-pointer to give the Warriors a six-point lead, 50 seconds away from a back-to-back title.
The cold-blooded finisher from waaaaay out is Durant’s most potent move, his version of spitting venom from a distance to kill his prey. If you turn the volume up after that basket, you might have heard Draymond Green hollering, Stephen Curry joyfully cursing, and Durant hissing.
That clutch three, Durant’s sixth three of the game, accomplished two things: it crushed the championship hopes of the Cleveland Cavaliers (again!); and it locked him in as the Finals MVP (again!).
Curry made his strong case for Finals MVP in the most Steph Curry way possible in Game 2. He threw multiple prayers up to the heavens and the heavens responded to him with a, “Yup, that’s good.”
There was even one ridiculous moment where, with the shot clock close to zero, Curry fumbled a behind-the-back dribble, then took one dribble to gather himself farther away from the three-point line, and then hoisted it while fading away over the outstretched arm—and horrified face—of Kevin Love. The other eight players stood in awe, their eyes tracing the fireball’s trajectory as it went up, and up, and then splashed through the hoop. The guy closest to the basket, LeBron James, looked at Curry then stood still for a few seconds, defeated. He let the ball bounce around a bit, not wanting to touch it, either because of fear of getting burned or because of disgust.
That was just one of a Finals record nine three-pointers, a feat that may have done more harm than good to Curry’s Finals MVP pitch. Because how do you follow up a game like that? Curry followed it up with a 1 out of 10 brickfest. Durant, on the other hand, boasted a career playoff-best 43 points.
After a dismal Game 3, Curry resumed his hot shooting in Game 4 in what appeared to be a last ditch effort for the individual award. A little bit of space and Curry would throw one up, one after another, until the Cavs finally accepted that losing to the Warriors is an unpreventable tragedy. To close the Steph Curry is Finals MVP argument, he hit seven three-pointers, two short of the record SET BY HIMSELF JUST FIVE DAYS EARLIER. In the short Finals series, Curry averaged close to 28 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.
In a different timeline, those numbers are more than enough to get a Finals MVP nod. But in this timeline, the one where the Cavs seem to find themselves stuck in a vicious loop, those numbers only got Curry a championship trophy. How sad.
Such has been the Warriors’ dominance on the entire league that this was the only jarring conflict that lasted until the final day of hoops: Is Durant Finals MVP, or is Steph? Warriors vs Cavs IV was a lie we told ourselves from the start. Warriors vs LeBron was cool for one game. The real war was Durant vs Curry.
And because of the Game 3 discrepancy (and Durant’s ultra-efficient 29 ppg on 53 percent shooting, 11 rpg, and 8 apg), Curry now has 3 championships, 2 season MVPs, 0 Finals MVP. Had he won, Curry would’ve ticked off the only thing he doesn’t have in his collection. It does seem weird that the joy and the life of the Warriors party can’t be called a Finals MVP. Or was it by design?
When Durant was recruited to the Warriors, the only promise was “championships,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. But by hiring an alpha scorer like Durant, the unspoken rule is he gets top billing. This was highlighted in the suffocating moments of Game 3, when Durant took on the task of bringing the ball down in the most important of possessions.
There was a weird moment in Game 3, 40 seconds left, when Curry nearly forgot the unspoken rule. After a LeBron James layup to cut the lead to four, Curry rushed to where Durant was standing to intercept an inbounds pass from Draymond Green. Curry touched the ball then quickly turned it over to Durant, who brought it down the court for the Warriors’ final play. That was pretty much like Curry turning over Finals MVP to Durant in that meeting at the Hamptons.
As long as the Warriors keep on defending championships against a weak Eastern Conference contender, Durant might continue to collect Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards. That’s just the beauty of the Warriors design: happy Durant, happy life.
As for Curry’s legacy, it will remain as smooth as his jumper. Curry doesn’t need the individual award to keep his spot among the greats. Beside his Finals MVP teammate, Curry is the guy smiling and shimmying and getting all the love from all corners of the world. That’s the biggest accolade.
Photos from Getty Images