OAKLAND — He almost didn't want to hear the news, concerned even in his crowning hour that his team's central mission would be distracted. Stephen Curry has been named the NBA's Most Valuable Player, despite misinformed campaigning against him by Kobe Bryant and Mark Cuban and Blake Griffin and too many others, and Curry will be honored today at a news conference that will showcase what is precious about him as a shooting maestro and wonderful human being.
True to his selfless soul, he'd just prefer if the individual accolade came after the Warriors won an NBA championship, a goal that is closer after a 101-86 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals — and a dream that is looking more realistic, if not likely, after the elimination of the San Antonio Spurs, the hamstring injury of Chris Paul, the season-ending shoulder surgery of Kevin Love, the uncertainty of Derrick Rose and other playoff developments that continue to break in Golden State's direction. The danger, actually, is to believe on May 4 that it will be a major disappointment if the Warriors don't win the title.
Which is why Curry seemed in pain when the MVP possibility, since confirmed by the team's business partner at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, was broached Sunday.
“In the middle of a playoff series, it's hard to kind of separate yourself with other things,” he said. “Obviously, I know what the situation is, and I'm just trying to focus on the game. If I get a call, I'll definitely be happy, and there will be a lot of people that can be proud of that moment, as well, and we'll enjoy it. But right now, I'm happy we won Game 1. I'll wake up [today], and it will be a fresh new day, and we'll see what happens.”
What will happen is justice. Contrary to those who think Curry is an outgrowth of a wildly successful team and has much more daily help than Houston's James Harden, there can be no other selection than the dynamic scorer and leader of a colossus that went 67-15 in the regular season and is 5-0 this postseason. If you still think Curry isn't the MVP, fetch the tape from the first-round clincher in New Orleans. Even when his services weren't needed Sunday beyond a steady, 22-point contribution, he reminded us of his special value when he hit consecutive pull-up 3-pointers after the Grizzlies had cut the lead to six points late in the first half. He fed his unofficial YouTube channel, as well, with various behind-the-back kickbacks and airplane-glide maneuvers — the stuff that has made him the most exciting and adorable athlete in American sports, at a time when we need exciting and adorable figures.
It's unfortunate that basketball people who should know better don't understand his leadership abilities. Not only was he quick to shush the MVP query, he urged caution when it was mentioned that the champions have been dethroned and other variables are breaking positively for the Warriors.
“That's the challenge — not to get too far ahead of yourself,” said Curry, who tweeted “I love basketball” during the final minutes of the epic Clippers-Spurs series. “That's a great team in front of us in the Memphis Grizzlies that we have to take care of right now. Obviously, we know which two teams [are next] if we win the series, but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. It's a fun time. The pressure is on. The vibe around the league is at a high, and I think we're ready for the moment. But just trying to stay in the moment — that's the biggest thing for us.”
He preferred to discuss another aspect of the series opener, one involving the fans. Seems you have identified the enemy at Oracle Arena, and his name is Tony Allen. During a timeout, a group of kids were doing a spiffy MC Hammer dance routine on the hardwood. Allen, heretofore best known as a Grizzlies' defensive stopper and whose name hardly engenders fear as would Kobe or LeBron James, wandered through the middle of the boogie and immediately drew loud protests from the fans. He didn't do this maliciously. In fact, when he realized his error, he shook one dancer's hand.
Too late. Every time Allen touched the ball, he was booed.
“I was sitting on the scorer's table when the Junior Jam Squad was dancing, and they were killing the MC Hammer rendition,” said Curry, explaining what he saw at the crime scene. “I saw him kind of walk out, and it was like slow-mo because I don't think he realized where he was walking. He was kind of locked in the moment, and they were still dancing, and our fans were obviously protecting the Warriors' ground. It was pretty funny.”
“He tried to dap the little kids. And the fans did not pay that any attention,” Draymond Green said. “That was hilarious. I just starting laughing the entire time. It was pretty funny.”
Green's mother, the ever-tweeting Mary Babers-Green, wasn't nearly as kind on social media: “Tony Allen is so DISRESPECTFUL … interrupting our babies!”
Allen, for his part, pleaded innocent. “I didn't even know. I just heard the first horn and I went out there,” he said. “I thought they knew to run off the court.”
The takeaway from the Allen episode is two-fold. One, the Warriors are so dominant these days that they leave opponents dazed. Two, the Warriors are so dominant these days that their fans, who sold out Oracle Arena for the 126th consecutive game and watched their team's 21st straight home win, have little else to do but find peripheral villains. After this sweat-free victory over the Grizzlies, who won't win a game as long as the bloodshot and battered left eye of Mike Conley continues to look like a cyclops from a horror flick, it was difficult not to imagine some beautiful thoughts about where all this might be headed. Curry's MVP trophy comes after Steve Kerr finished second for Coach of the Year and Green finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. In a pregame ceremony Sunday, general manager Bob Myers was handed the league's Executive of the Year trophy by The Logo himself, Jerry West, a curious presentation in that West has performed more than mere “consulting” work in helping Team Lacob navigate the delicate Mark Jackson transition and reach an elite plateau.
With so much hardware being distributed, it's appropriate to ask — as I did last week and last month and as has been apparent throughout a 72-win-and-counting season — if the Warriors are destined for an NBA championship. The team that would have been the most difficult obstacle, the Spurs, were dethroned in the first round by the Clippers. And while having to play their bitter rivals in the conference finals wouldn't be easy, it helps that Paul, who hit the dramatic series-clinching shot while limping, is trying to play through a wicked left hamstring injury.
“I know my grandmother back in North Carolina is praying right now,” said Paul, who probably won't play in Game 1 of the other West semifinal tonight in Houston. “She's praying, and she'll let my mom pray over it and all that, too, and it will be all right.”
Concerned, Doc Rivers? “Yeah, yeah, very,” the Clippers' coach said. “Someone is going to have to step up. It's funny how coaches think. With three minutes left [in Game 7], I'm thinking, 'OK, if we win this game, thank God I signed Lester [Hudson] because now you have two guards left.'”
Adversity has visited other serious contenders this season: the Clippers now have Paul's injury after a few internal squabbles … James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to win without Love … and Chicago still worries about Rose, who holds the franchise's championship hopes inside his surgically repaired knees.
But adversity continues to leave the Warriors alone. They've had nothing close to a debilitating injury. And the one problem that could have been tricky — David Lee's back issues — turned out to be a blessing when Green entered the starting lineup and became a breakthrough star. Beyond the occasional Green verbal shot, this team has been remarkably controversy-free. Before the game, Kerr mentioned something about ticket demands from friends. “My ticket allotment — I need an amendment in my contract next season,” he said. “I'm in good shape. My wife and two of my three kids will be here along with 18,000 close friends.” At Oracle, that is considered a crisis.
It's almost too good to be true, this mission to win the franchise's first title in 40 years. And the players are starting to sense a championship is lurking.
“I mean, we thought that from the beginning,” Green said. “No disrespect to the Spurs or anyone else, but we have had confidence in ourselves, and we've done it through the course of the season. We don't want it just to be a regular-season thing. We think we're just as good or better than anybody in this league. It's not that other teams have injuries or someone is eliminated.
“We feel we can beat anyone. That's been our mindset the entire year, and it's not going to change now.”
They will gather after practice for the MVP coronation. Remember Kevin Durant's tearjerker speech last spring? Expect something as memorable.
And then Steph Curry will remind everyone there's another game Tuesday night.