NEW ORLEANS — Ad infinitum, the Most Valuable Player of this NBA season is Stephen Curry. Ad nauseam, the most magnetic performer in sports right now is Stephen Curry. I echo this in case any voting media people forget to place him on their ballots — hello there, Jabari Young of CSN Northwest — and I reiterate this after Curry’s latest forced entry into the nationwide conversation.
That would be a 39-point shooting blitz Saturday night, giving the Warriors a sweep of their first-round series with the Pelicans, allowing them at least a week of rest before the next series … and shutting up those of us who wondered, ever briefly, if this team was operating at a championship-worthy level.
“Playing against Steph, man, it’s not fair,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams marveled after Golden State’s 109-98 clincher. “Some of the shots he hits … I’ve never seen anything like it. I watched a lot of basketball as a kid — Isiah Thomas was like that. Steph is on a different level. The shots he makes, his command of the ball, his ability to finish. The moment doesn’t bother him. He’s in the elite of the elite right now. He’s after something. You can tell by the way he’s playing.”
He’s after that large, shiny trophy, the Larry O’Brien Jug, which means he won’t be satisfied until he’s clutching it. “We still feel we can play better and be more consistent. That will be the mission next week,” said Curry, following up his miracle shot that saved Game 3 with a near triple-double and 6 of 8 shooting beyond the three-point line. He didn’t mind at all, in fact, that the players were chastised by their coach — as much as Steve Kerr can chastise — after their morning shootaround at Smoothie King Center.
“To be honest, coach got into us. He didn’t think we had a sense of urgency,” Curry said. “We knew what the mission was tonight. We had a shot to finish out the series, and we want to make it as easy as possible for ourselves. He was being completely honest. He made sure we knew what was at stake.”
This was the complete, four-quarter performance Kerr had been demanding. They led by 21 points after three quarters, and when the Pelicans began to mount another late run, the Warriors slammed and deadbolted the door this time. Curry was magnificent with more of his basketball-as-opera dramatics, preferring this time not to wait until the final seconds. “There’s nothing you can do about him,” said Anthony Davis, who tried in vain with his speed and wingspan to defend Curry on the perimeter. “You try to pressure him, run him off the line, and he goes by you and hits shots in the lane. You back off, he’s gonna shoot a three. That’s why he’s in the running for MVP. He’s just a great shooter. Same with Klay [Thompson]. You play great defense and think they’re just throwing up a shot.
“It goes in.”
Just as Curry dominated the regular season and earned a personal White House invitation, he is using the postseason to reaffirm his brilliance. As well as Davis played in a series that showcased his future-MVP abilities, he’ll hurt this offseason about failing to block Curry’s prayer in the final seconds of regulation time Thursday night. “When [Mo] Speights got the rebound, I tried to run as fast as I could and jump as high as I could,” Davis said. “I was late. He made it. It gave them momentum.”
For overtime. For Game 4. And, perhaps, into mid-June.
“Obviously, Steph was just Steph.” Kerr said. “Amazing.”
So amazing that the all-time comparisons keep coming nightly. Williams mentioned Thomas. Who comes to mind when Steph Curry assesses Steph Curry? “I liked watching my Pops,” he said, referring to the sweet-shooting Dell Curry, “but I used to watch Steve Nash and Reggie Miller. I took characteristics of how they impact the game. I was always in awe of those guys the way they competed.” These days, in retirement, Nash and Miller are in awe of him.
It would be wrong, though, to spend an entire Game 4 column lathering up Def Steph. Thompson was a killer when he had to be, with Williams noting of the Warriors, “They’re so good, we don’t even talk about Klay. Klay is an All-Star, maybe the best ‘2’ guard in the league.” Then there was Draymond Green. And his famous mother, Mary Babers-Green, who is trending on Twitter as quickly as her son is trending as an emerging star and personality.
First, Draymond. This is a guy who overcame a challenging adolescence, overcame weight issues in college, overcame the perception he was a football player in basketball shorts, overcame being snubbed in the first round of the draft, overcame coming off the bench earlier in his Warriors career, overcame every damned obstacle the world placed in his face. So why would some New Orleans cuisine defeat him?
My stomach and your stomach have been where Green’s stomach was at 3:07 a.m. Saturday, when he tweeted on his @Money23Green feed, “Another reason I can’t sleep… That food we ate got my tummy on 10.” When he followed that with an achy-faced emoji, it appeared ever so briefly that the Warriors finally might have met their saboteur: Cajun food. As it was, they’d been forced to purge the Smoothie King Center ballboys who’d sparked a furor, leaking to the Pelicans that a Warriors player had said before an April 7 game here that the night would be little more than “a scrimmage” — a breach that caused the ballboys to be kicked out of the Warriors’ locker room for this playoff trip via a team vote.
Now, had those ballboys also tainted Green’s food?
If so — and anything is possible in this town — his tummy should gurgle more often. With his typical passion and high energy, Green was terrific from the start, delivering 20 first-half points and ending with a near triple-double himself — 22 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists. The Warriors easily could have fallen behind with some early slop, including a Curry airball. Green wouldn’t let them stagger, scoring 10 of his team’s first 13 points.
That had his mother revved up on Twitter. Among her beauties:
“They didn’t lie when they said CURRY don’t get any foul calls!”
“Why are playing SLOPPY BALL.. do not give them LIFE!”
“This is some BULL”
“Are these NEW ORLEANS personal REFS! #disrespectful”
“Can I have some CURRY SOUP?”
“IGGY DOLLA IGGY DOLLA #HOLLA”
“DO NOT RELAX.. this is the NBA!”
“We need someone to get AMPPPPPED NOW..okay Bogut”
“BRAINS & HEART!”
“Ppl are so childish..the thngs they say on my page..#GET A LIFE YOU MAD!”
“I dream last night that we were sweeping up FEATHERS! #OVER #DONE #SEEYA!”
This was the same Mary Babers-Green who tore into the aforementioned media person, Young, for leaving Green off his ballot for Defensive Player of the Year. It was mentioned to Draymond that his mother again was on a 140-character tear Saturday night. He grinned, sheepishly. “She’ll text me at 3 in the morning talking about how she can’t sleep,” he said. “She’s a very, very, very fiery person. What you see on Twitter, I’ve been dealing with my whole life.”
America is becoming quite familiar with Mary, Draymond, Kerr, Steph, Klay, the entire Warriors scene.
The next opponent likely will be the Grizzlies, a team with postseason savvy and physicality. But it’s also a team that was tattooed by the Warriors in Memphis last month, to a 107-84 tune, and a team that fell behind by 32 points at Oracle two weeks ago before Kerr rested his regulars.
“They’re built to win a championship,” Williams said. “They’re probably the most complete team we’ve faced, them and San Antonio. They don’t have any weaknesses. I had to watch games they lost just to see what teams did against them. They’re obviously well-coached with great players.”
So great that Kerr is taking the week off. “I’m going to Cabo tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t play until Sunday at the earliest, so I told the guys to get some work in and I’ll see them Saturday.”
He was kidding. I think.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.