Here's the thing about Stephen Curry: Even when you've spent three quarters shadowing him with a variety of on-ball defenders and showing him multiple schematic looks, enticing him to set up comparatively low-risk post-ups to David Lee or feed misfiring teammates like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (a combined 7 for 26 through 36 minutes), and flustering him into eight turnovers in the process, you've still got to put him far enough in your rear-view mirror that one shot, taken at the game's most pivotal moment, won't matter. Because Stephen Curry will hit that shot, if you give him the opportunity to do so.
The Dallas Mavericks, for all the fine work they did on Wednesday, gave him that opportunity, and it burned them.
After Monta Ellis didn't get the friendly bounce a front-rimmed pull-up jumper out of a Mavericks timeout, Curry rebounded the miss and dribbled into the frontcourt with just under 24 seconds left and the game knotted at 93. Defender Jose Calderon stepped out high above the 3-point arc to check the torrid long-range marksman, who'd brought a Warriors team that trailed by six at the start of the fourth quarter, was down 12 with 10:21 remaining and had faced deficits as large as 18 in the game. Center Andrew Bogut raced up to set a high screen on Calderon, bringing ace Mavericks defender Shawn Marion up top to switch onto Curry as he dribbled left toward the center of the court with the clock ticking down below 10.
Curry calmly worked his way to the right elbow, jittering and shivering as he dribbled right, then threw a quick pump-fake that sent Marion into the stratosphere, ducked underneath, rose toward daylight and fired. Pure. 95-93 Warriors, 1.5 seconds left.
"I kind of lulled him to sleep with the pump fake and thankfully it went in," Curry said after the game, according to Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press.
And since Dallas had no timeouts left, having used its final stoppage to set up the possession that led to Monta's miss 24 seconds earlier, the Mavs had to inbound from under Golden State's basket, setting up a just-past-half-court prayer from Calderon that went unanswered. Curry and his Warriors escaped.
The basket capped a sensational fourth quarter for Curry: 16 points on 6 for 11 shooting, 3 for 6 from long range (including a huge four-point play that brought Golden State within two with 1:16 remaining) three assists without a turnover. And Mark Jackson's team needed every bit of it to crawl out of the hole they'd built with a sluggish start, off-target early shooting and a defense that frequently seemed unable to stop the likes of Ellis (21 points on 8 for 20 shooting, five assists, four rebounds, three steals, Calderon (18 points on 7 for 15 shooting, five assists, four rebounds) and Dirk Nowitzki (21 points on 7 for 14 shooting, seven rebounds).
“They came back and I thought we played Curry decent," Nowitzki said after the game. "We switched. Marion was on him, who’s probably our best perimeter defender, been our best perimeter defender for a long time, and that’s a matchup we [like]. Curry just got him up in the air. It’s a tough play. He stepped under him and made a tough shot.”
Curry wasn't the only reason the Warriors came back. Full marks go to Draymond Green, who had five points, two assists, two rebounds and a steal in the fourth quarter and added jolts of energy and defensive intensity throughout his 28 minutes, to the point where many are wondering whether that number of minutes is too low for this version of Green and this version of the Warriors, given their early-game and defensive shortcomings. Barnes kept up his third-quarter aggression early in the fourth, attacking Vince Carter off the bounce en route to six points that kept the Warriors close. Ellis missed a free-throw with 46 seconds left that we're sure he'd like to have back. And so on.
But while he wasn't the only reason, Curry, as often seems to be the case with these Warriors, was the biggest reason:
He finished with 33 points on 13 for 25 shooting and 10 assists — only he, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have multiple 30-10 games this season. That continued a pretty monstrous two-week run that's seen Steph average 30.5 points and nine assists per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the floor, 43.2 shooting from 3-point range (on 9.3 attempts) and 88.5 percent from the line (on 6.5 attempts) over his past eight games.
With the absence of Andre Iguodala negatively impacting the Warriors' defense and offense, Golden State has needed Curry to be a wrecking crew, and he's obliged. (They'd like him to have to do so less often, though; he's averaging 42.3 minutes per game over that stretch, four more than his career-high floor-time last season.) On Wednesday, with Thompson on the fritz and the Mavericks hitting their shots, Curry's one-man-gang act gave the Warriors a chance late, and what unfolded came as no surprise to Jackson, according to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I can remember Coach (Lou) Carnesseca talking about rehearsal and repetition and, before the curtains open up, you work on your lines and your craft," Jackson said. "I've seen Steph Curry — every single day — take that shot hundreds and hundreds of times, thousands of times. So when the curtains opened up, you expected it to go in."
And it did, nudging the Warriors past the Mavericks in the competitive Western Conference — while both now sport 13-10 records, Golden State's better in-conference record would give them the nod for the eighth seed if the playoffs started today. (Thankfully for Mavericks fans, they don't.)
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