OAKLAND, Calif. – In the end, there was Stephen Curry standing in the middle of it all: beating his chest, belting out a blood-curdling scream born of one of the great escapes in conference finals history. The Golden State Warriors and the NBA's Most Valuable Player should've been buried in America's Dust Bowl days ago, demoralized, demolished, left to rot with 73 victories and a fistful of what-ifs.
Suddenly, the surround sound of Oracle Arena hysteria tumbled down upon Curry on Monday night, the Game 7 victory validating the genius of his talent and the prodigious pureness of his heart.
Still standing, still the champs.
For Curry to flourish in the middle of it all Monday night at Oracle Arena – to close out a 96-88 victory with 15 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter – had been because Curry never let Klay Thompson believe the Splash Brothers no longer existed. Curry could've transformed one of the great individual seasons ever – a unanimous MVP performance – and separated himself into a singular entity.
"Steph does not care about getting all the attention," Draymond Green told The Vertical late Monday night. "Without Klay, there's not that much success here. He's always made sure that people understood: It's about us, it's not about me. That's why this team is successful, because that's our guy, that's how he sees things."
Curry needed middle relief in this series, and Thompson delivered it for him. Golden State never would've gotten out of Oklahoma City, out of Game 6, without Thompson's 41 points. He was the hero. "What Klay did was [put] us on his shoulders and allow us to have this opportunity at home," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Once Thompson became dominant, it made it easier for Curry to regain form too. Curry was hurting, struggling and everyone within the Warriors knew it. Thompson bought Curry time to become Curry again, and the MVP unleashed himself on Monday night in Game 7.
When the Warriors' backcourt started together five years ago, Curry and Thompson were a true partnership. On the night Golden State traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee, Thompson remembers Curry telling him: It's you and me now. The Splash Brothers were born.
And as these past two years unfolded, it appeared to matter far less that Thompson had become a two-time All-Star guard – only because Curry had become a two-time MVP. This year, the term Splash Brothers had never been heard so less. And yet if that was the narrative outside the Warriors, it never became the reality within them.
Three weeks ago, Curry made his comeback from an MCL knee sprain. He had missed games in the series against the Houston Rockets and Portland, and struggled for most of Game 4 against the Trail Blazers. As it turned out, his closing performance transcended the moment: 17 points in overtime, an NBA record. Everyone swooned over Curry, only to find him swooning over someone else.
Before Curry left the podium that night, he leaned into the microphone and answered a question that no one had posed to him: Hey, what a series Klay Thompson has had for us, he told everyone. Big shots, big makes and chasing Damian Lillard everywhere on defense.
"I called him later, and told him, 'That's great leadership,' " Warriors GM Bob Myers told The Vertical on Monday night.
When the Warriors were down 3-1, Myers delivered Curry a gentle reminder. "Your body language matters," the GM told him. "People are watching you."
For as long as Myers has studied Curry – as an underclassman at Davidson, as a fragile, young NBA player and ultimately as a global icon – he has always marveled over the man's belief. Curry's confidence is unwavering and peerless because the investment of work into his craft allows for it.
"He does it quietly – unlike Draymond, his alter ego," Myers said with a laugh.
This was some scene in Oracle on Monday night, a culmination of a conference finals comeback the NBA hadn't seen since the Boston Celtics survived the Philadelphia 76ers in 1981. The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the way for an NBA Finals rematch on Thursday night, only this time LeBron James is bringing a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Curry will need everyone on these Warriors, need them all, and that includes the full force of the Splash Brothers.
"When you're down, like we were, the fabric of the team is easier to see," Myers told The Vertical. "You see it when you hit some adversity. When you could splinter, and you don't, well, that's where you see the connectedness of the team."
For these Golden State Warriors, it still begins and ends with Steph Curry. The Warriors had his back in these Western finals because he's always had theirs. In the end, the MVP stood in the middle of Oracle Arena and let the love wash over him, pounding his chest, screaming into the Bay Area night. Together, they had done it. Together, the Warriors had survived. Still standing, still champs.
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