It’s your turn to step up, Stephen Curry, Mr. Unanimous Most Valuable Player.
Balls is talkin’ about the Stephen Curry who averaged 30.1 points and 6.7 assists per game. The one who set the NBA record for most 3-pointers in the regular season.
Anybody see that guy lately?
The Warriors will take a 2-1 lead into the NBA Finals tonight, but unless Curry plays more like himself again, they can put their repeat parade on hold. Coach Steve Kerr tried to downplay the slump on Thursday with talk that “It’s a team game,” but don’t buy it. The Warriors can beat pretenders like the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers with their best player as a passenger, but it can’t beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers four times unless he’s behind the wheel.
And nobody knows that better than Curry himself.
“It’s all about our effort tomorrow, especially the starting five, how we start the game,” said Curry, who averaged a mere 16.0 points in the first three games. “Because you assume they’re going to play with the same energy as they did in Game 3.”
Let’s not bury Curry yet. He was off the mark in the first two games of the series but deserved a pass. His team won both easily.
That wasn’t the case in Game 3, when James dominated the battle of former and current MVPs in a 120-90 rout that left questions about Curry and his mental and physical state. James even swatted aside Curry’s innocent lay-up attempt during a stoppage of play. Think he wants to lead Cleveland to a championship and become known as the best player in the world again?
Inexplicably, Curry lacked focus and energy from the first jump ball. At one point, a perplexed Kerr was moved to ask him in the huddle, “Are you OK?”
Fact is, Curry isn’t OK physically. The Warriors can fib all they want about his health, but his bum ankle and knee have limited his movement. He hasn’t been able to separate from defenders, partly because he hasn’t been to cut as sharply without the ball. He hasn’t had the same lift on his shots.
But as long as Curry is healthy enough to play, then he should be expected to make a significant contribution. Because if Curry doesn’t get his MVP act together and do it quickly, the series is up for grabs.
BUT THE NEXT TIME … One year after Matthew Dellavedova made a name for himself with dirty play, the Cavaliers were at it again in Game 3, when Timofey Mozgov kneed Klay Thompson in the left thigh on a pick.
But after a conversation with Anderson Varejao, Balls will dismiss it as a klutz move for now.
“Timofey isn’t the type of guy to hurt somebody on purpose,” Varejao said. “If it happens again, then maybe we should think about it, but it was just one of those plays that happen in basketball.”
One day after he accused Mozgov of a cheapshot, Thompson wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I mean, I don’t think he meant to do it maliciously, but usually when someone sets a screen, you do it with your chest or something,” Thompson said. “But I’m not going to hold a grudge. It’s basketball.”
Thompson rode a stationary bike to loosen up and said he would play through the “nagging” injury.
NO LOVE LOST: The Cavaliers’ Kevin Love (concussion) took part in practice and is expected to return to the lineup after a one-game layoff, but whether he would regain his starter role was iffy at best.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Tyronn Lue said while his nose grew three inches.
Richard Jefferson represents a marked improvement at the defensive end, where he’s better equipped to handle Harrison Barnes at small forward. More importantly, his presence allows James to spend more time on Draymond Green at power forward, his best position defensively.
Besides, James is the head coach, and you know who he gave the game ball to after Game 3, don’t you?
That’s right — Jefferson.
DRIVE TIME: The Cavaliers have crowded the perimeter to limit the 3-point game and done it with some success. So how to beat it? Take the ball to the basket more often in an attempt to score easy points on layups and free throws.
“If they’re going to crowd our shooters, then we have to drive the ball,” Shaun Livingston told Balls of the countermove. “We’ll have to be more aggressive with the ball, beating our man off the dribble and testing their individual defense. There should be space for us to do it.”
If the Cavaliers have an obvious weakness defensively, it’s in the paint area, where they lack shot-blockers.
“Yeah, exactly,” Livingston said. “They don’t really have any shot-blockers except Mozgov.”
THEY ARE NOT WORTHY: Everyone who played for the Showtime Lakers or Jordan Bulls has a biased opinion about a dream series against the Warriors, and James Worthy has his.
“No contest,” Worthy told Balls. “Too many bad matchups. And we played defense.”
What Worthy meant was, the Lakers were allowed to play defense, and they were pretty darn good at it.
“Different rules,” Worthy said. “Players were able to hand-check and commit hard fouls back then. If that was the case, [the Warriors] would find it very difficult to score against us.”
But what about the Warriors’ wide edge from beyond the 3-point line.
“We didn’t shoot many of those,” Worthy said. “But we didn’t need many.”
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anderson vareajaochicago bullsCleveland CavaliersDraymond GreenGolden State WarriorsJames Worthyjr smithKlay ThompsonKyrie IrvingLeBron JamesMatthew DellavedovaMichael JordanNBA FinalsNBA PlayoffsPaul LadewskiPortland Trail Blazersrichard jeffersonshowtime lakersStephen CurryTimofey Mozgov