AN FRANCISCO — For far too long, Steph Curry’s baby-face exterior and easily likeable personality had him mistaken for soft and submissive. Covered by a beard in Year 13, with three championships and an uncountable amount of heartbreaking moments for his opponents, we’re far past that nixed narrative. S
Steph is a menace on the court — he revels in your embarrassment. Putting his defender on skates, flinging cross-court passes, turning away with a deep 3-pointer still tumbling to the hoop and shimmying down the floor — an NBA court is his playground. His fun is another’s nightmare.
Everything else about him, however, couldn’t be more the opposite. That starts first and foremost with his ability to lead and put himself second, even at 34 years old with two NBA MVPs and many more accolades to his name. Curry’s latest example has come at the start of the 2022 NBA playoffs.
When he practiced last Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s Game 1 matchup with the Denver Nuggets in the Warriors’ first-round playoff series, Steve Kerr made two things clear: Curry would have a minutes restriction if he returns from his sprained left foot, and his star point guard would be in the starting lineup. One day later, Kerr wouldn’t fully commit one way or the other regarding Curry’s role. Still, it felt inevitable he would start.
C’mon, this is Steph Curry we’re talking about.
Nope. Kerr shocked us all when the Warriors’ starting lineup was announced. Curry wasn’t a part of it, and rising star Jordan Poole was. Poole averaged 25.8 points over the final 12 games of the regular season with Curry out. Jealousy could have crept in, Steph could have demanded he start Game 1 after being cleared to play in his quest for a fourth ring.
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Instead, he was largely influential with him coming off the bench and keeping Poole in the starting lineup.
“Steph is Steph,” Kerr said Monday night after the Warriors’ 20-point Game 2 win. “You don’t need to sell him on anything. He’s very unique. He’s incredibly humble and incredibly arrogant on the floor. Humble off the floor, arrogant on the floor. It’s a great combination.
“Anything that is going to help the team, he’s all for. We always collaborate. We talk about everything. It’s just very matter of fact with Steph. There’s never any ego that gets in the way.”
Curry didn’t look to get his when he entered Saturday night’s Game 1 win. He just looked to make winning plays. In the first quarter, he didn’t take a single shot, getting his feel for the game and keeping the ball moving.
He scored 16 points off the bench, all while Poole’s breakout season followed him to the playoffs with a 30-point debut. Curry again came off the bench in Game 2. Humbleness.
This time, he entered as a different player. He didn’t waste any time taking a shot the moment he came in. Splash, three points. By halftime, he already matched his Game 1 total, all while Poole had 14 points in the first half and Klay Thompson had 10.
With the Warriors down by one and their new Deathcon 5 lineup starting to terrorize Denver’s defense in the second quarter, Curry cooked Monte Morris, spun around MVP Nikola Jokic and flipped in a nasty layup. Two points, timeout Nuggets.
Chase Center erupted, and Curry had his “I’m back” moment. In this case, his “I’m f–king back, boy!” moment.
Arrogance, in the most beautiful sense on a basketball court.
“Just starting to find a rhythm,” Curry said of his declaration to the crowd. “Like first game, missing that much time, coming off the bench, trying to get used to the speed of the game again. Somewhat impactful the first game but didn’t really feel like normal, like it had a real flow.
“The first half, little pep in my step and the body felt good. Was kind of able to get to some spots. You make certain shots, feels a little bit different and more normal and more emotion comes out, especially with that layoff, so it was a nice feeling.”
Curry in the second half was even better, scoring 18 points and totaling 34 points on just 17 shots, helping make him a plus-32 in only 23 minutes played. He didn’t miss a single 2-pointer and drained five 3-pointers. His 34 points made him the 27th player in NBA history to score at least 3,000 career points in the playoffs.
He could have complained the two times he came off the bench in the playoffs prior to this season. He didn’t, and scored 40 and 28 points respectively — both being Warriors wins. They’re now 4-0 in the playoffs when he comes off the bench.
He could have said no to Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. Curry earned that. He invited him with open arms, again putting himself second, and at the same time putting up Hall of Fame numbers. It sounds simple and obvious on paper. It’s rare in reality.
“Steph, it’s just the way he was raised,” Kerr said. “He didn’t even have to get over himself. He was already over himself when he arrived in the NBA, and he’s maintained that humility despite this incredible stardom and incredible success he’s had and what makes him such a powerful teammate.”