Dribbling the ball behind his back on the right wing, Stephen Curry drew in Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, who’s been regarded as one of Houston’s best defender this season.
Stepping back into a fadeaway, 28-foot 3-pointer, Curry hit nothing but net to give the Golden State Warriors a five-point lead with 1:28 to play in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
For Curry, Friday’s 118-113 win in a road close-out game was more than just a series win. After going scoreless in the first quarter, Curry scored 23 points in the fourth, demonstrating that, even without a healthy Kevin Durant, he and Golden State were still a playoff force.
“You don’t do this, you don’t do what these guys have done without an incredible combination of talent and character,” Kerr said. “I thought Steph [Curry] epitomized that tonight… A complete non-factor in the game and then just completely took over the game.”
Without Durant, the Warriors were forced to find the 34.2 points that he has averaged this postseason elsewhere.
“With Kevin, you kind of have that luxury of you can kind of be lazy because you can always throw [Durant] and he’s going to go get you a bucket,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “To not have that luxury it was a big change for us.”
Initially, the plan was to drive the offense through Curry, but Curry was limited to watching the game from the bench after picking up his second foul on a James Harden 3-point attempt with six minutes and 40 seconds in the first quarter.
“You’re just kind of disappointed because we need him on the floor,” Green said. “A lot of our offense is going to be based around Steph so that makes it tough.”
Luckily for Golden State, another one of their guards, who is used to stepping up in Game 6s, was standing by to pick up the slack for his fellow Splash Brother.
In 2016, Klay Thompson famously hit 11 3-pointers on his way to 41 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder to help the Warriors avoid elimination. Against the Rockets, Thompson cashed in 21 first-half points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc to draw the Warriors even with Houston by halftime, tied at 57.
“He’s just in attack mode,” Green said. “I Kind of knew that Klay would have a game like this when in the first quarter I saw him try to shoot the ball from like 40 feet … He’s just extremely confident and in attack mode.”
Coming out of halftime, Curry was back on the court after registering only 12 minutes of playing time, during which he was 0-for-5 from the floor.
“After halftime we’re tied and I had zero points,” Curry said. “You’ve got to like that situation.”
At the 9:36 mark of the third quarter, Curry broke the seal by scoring his first basket of the game. Sinking a layup, Curry jogged by down the court knowing that the floodgates were about to be opened.
Scoring 10 of the Warriors 25 third-quarter points, Curry was beginning to find his rhythm as well as his range after hitting a his first triple of the the game in the left corner off a Quinn Cook assist.
But the third was just the beginning of a nuclear second half for Curry.
Starting the fourth quarter down by five points, the Warriors saw Curry scored five of their first 10 points to bring Golden State within one. Hitting a 10-foot floater, Curry tied the game at 97 with six-and-a-half minutes to play.
After a barrage of missed shots from both teams, Curry went on one of his patented Curry flurries, scoring eight straight points for Golden State, including a deep 29-footer and that gutsy fadeaway triple with Tucker draped all over him.
“He makes these plays that nobody could have taught him this stuff. You wonder what he’s thinking,” Kerr said. “Then you wonder after a while, just leave him alone. He’s so good that he’s going to counteract the few crazy plays he makes with a an amazing number of good ones and cutch ones.”
After securing a five-point lead from Curry’s heroic stretch, Golden State hit the Rockets with the dagger off of a Thompson triple on the left wing.
Hitting eight free throws in the final minute of play, Curry finished the game 33 points to propel Golden State into the Western Conference Finals for the fifth straight year, an NBA record.
“It did not surprise me one bit,” Thompson said. “The man is a competitor, a champion and on top of all that he plays with such heart. He’s our leader.”