OAKLAND — With 7.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry hoisted a 25-foot 3-pointer from the right wing.
Taking the contact from Cleveland Cavaliers guard Brandon Knight, Curry watched as his fourth triple of the quarter hit nothing but net.
The eventual four-point play put an exclamation point on the 18-point first quarter engineered by the Golden State sharpshooter. In one of his strongest performances of the regular season, Curry looked to already be in postseason form Friday night, pacing the Warriors with 40 points and leading Golden State to a 120-114 win.
“I’m feeling good,” Curry said. “These few games are just about finishing the right way. I’m happy with where we are as a team.”
Less than 24 hours before Friday night’s tip off, Curry would have been hard pressed to say the same, at least in regards to his own game.
Thursday night, Golden State was in Southern California to play the Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth and final time this season, and despite strolling out of Staples Center with a convincing 108-90 win, Curry had struggled mightily.
Shooting just 3-for-14 from the field, including an abysmal 1-for-9 from distance, Curry scored just seven points in 29 minutes of game action in his least productive outing of the season, at least from a scoring standpoint.
“You knew Steph was going to have a good night [tonight] because he had a tough night last night,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He rarely ever has two bad shooting nights in a row. He’s one of those guys who takes so much pride in his game and in his shooting.
“After a poor shooting night, he’s going to be re-focussed and charged up and ready to go. He was great right from the outset tonight.”
For the first half of the first quarter, Curry played the role of the traditional point guard as he looked to get his teammates engaged early.
One of the beneficiaries of Curry’s passing was forward Draymond Green, who scored Golden State’s first six points on two 3-pointers, the first coming off of a Curry assist.
Over the course of his last 11 games leading up to Friday, Green has been able to find his 3-point stroke, shooting 42% (13-for-31) from distance.
“Early in the season, I just didn’t feel good. My body was hurting,” Green said. “I feel as good as I’ve felt, over the last few weeks, in a long time, and that makes a difference.”
As for Curry, his first shot of the game wouldn’t come until nearly four minutes into the period. But after a layup off of a missed shot and a 29-footer off of a Green assist, the two-time MVP was in one of his zones. He hit three of his next four shots.
As the night wore on, Curry passed Hall of Famer Paul Arizin for third place on the Warriors all-time scoring list with 16,283 points. He now only sits behind Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain on said list.
With Curry’s scoring punch, Golden State was able to build its lead up to 19 points by the half following a deep triple from guard Quinn Cook at the end of the second quarter. By the end of the third, the Warriors still held a comfortable 15-point advantage after Curry poured in another 12 points thanks to three more 3-pointers.
Golden State’s 13 turnovers — compared Cleveland’s seven — allowed the Cavaliers to stick around.
“I don’t want to say this but you’re not as focussed [tonight]. We were trying a little bit more extra stuff,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “Cross-court passes, full-court outlet passes that were getting stolen.”
Cleveland was able to convert those 13 turnovers into 23 points. To make matters worse, five of those giveaways and nine of those points were surrendered in the fourth quarter. That, along with nine points from Cavs guard Collin Sexton allowed Cleveland to close the gap to just three points with just under three minutes to play. Curry was there to bring the game home.
Hitting a three with 2:01 to play, as well as a pair of free throws in the final seven seconds, Curry was able to seal the victory for Golden State.
“We want to build the right habits and call out the things that we need to improve on,” Curry said. “Just win games. We’ve got one more [win] until we can lock up the No. 1 seed… We’ll take care of our business and figure out who we’re going to play next weekend and go from there.”