Bow in the presence of greatness. That’s all the Celtics could do. Stephen Curry was simply the difference in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night, the difference between the Celtics being deadlocked, 2-2, heading back to San Francisco instead of standing a lone win away from a title.
Bow in the presence of greatness is a lyric from the song “Stronger” by Kanye West. It applied to another one-of-kind artist of our time, Curry. He put to rest the notion that anyone else can own the mantle of the best player in these Finals. It still feels like the Celtics are the better-equipped team, but in the team sport where one player can tip the balance the most, Curry changed the winning equation and the series with a performance for the ages.
Boston sports fans got a taste of what it was like for the opposition during those 20 glorious years that the Patriots perpetually had their prayers answered by Tom Brady. Curry pulled off the basketball version of that, willing his team to a must-have win with a 43-point masterpiece. The Warriors scored a 107-97 victory at TD Garden because they had Curry and the Celtics didn’t. The Celtics got Steph-ed. One man was the dividing line between defeat and victory.
“Came out and showed why he’s one of the best players to ever play this game, and why this organization has been able to ride him to so much success,” said Draymond Green. “It’s absolutely incredible.
“He wasn’t letting us lose. That’s just what it boils down to. I could tell in his demeanor the last couple of days that he was going to come out with that type of fire, and he did. We were all able to follow.”
You could almost appreciate the majesty of Curry’s performance if it weren’t so heartbreaking for hoops fans in the Hub. There’s something inspiring about the greats rising to the occasion, except when it happens at the expense of your team and bursts your bubble.
Curry said he drew some energy from the hostility of the Garden crowd and their “shenanigans,” as he put it. One thinks he still would’ve rained fire if spectators had been golf-clapping instead of F-bombing his team.
Considering the stakes and the circumstances, this performance is near the top of Curry’s considerable oeuvre, which includes three NBA titles, two MVPs, two scoring titles, and more made 3-pointers than anyone in the history of the game.
He racked up 33 points after three quarters and delivered 10 in the fourth, including a dagger 3-pointer over Derrick White that gave Golden State a 100-94 lead with 1:42 to go. White blinked and Curry’s shot was through the net.
“I can’t rank my performances,” said Curry, who scored 47 points in a Finals game against Toronto in 2019. “It’s just win the game.”
But fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson was willing to rank it.
“I think probably No. 1,” said Thompson, who hit a go-ahead three for the Warriors with 4:26 left. “I mean, this was nearly a must-win game, and to go out there and shoot as efficiently as he did, and grab 10 rebounds and they were attacking him on defense … Steph played incredible.”
He was like a human life preserver for the Warriors, keeping them afloat through another awful performance from Green and another off shooting night from Thompson, until Klay came alive in the final frame.
“That’s the one guy you can’t allow to beat you,” Marcus Smart said of Curry.
But he did.
There had been some question as to what level Curry would be able to perform at after Al Horford landed on his left foot during a loose ball scramble in the Warriors’ Game 3 loss.
If Curry’s foot isn’t hurting him his back must be because he’s carrying the Warriors in this series.
The maestro is averaging 34.3 points per game, despite the Celtics defense following him and harassing him like an overzealous sidewalk solicitor. It’s not like the Celtics let Curry get loose with lackadaisical defense. He just made shots. He has all series.
Curry is the first player to make at least five threes in four straight NBA Finals games, and his 25 triples are the most ever in any four-game Finals span. The most incredible aspect of his scoring proficiency is his efficiency. Curry is shooting 50 percent from the field and a gaudy 49 percent from 3-point range. In Game 4, he shot 7 of 14 from deep and 14 of 26 overall.
With a baby face that belies his age and his edge, the sharpshooter joined Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only players in Finals history to tally 40-plus points at age 34 or older.
Dell Curry’s progeny deserves to be mentioned in that esteemed company.
The game-changing guard is a sui generis talent. He needs just a sliver of airspace to launch threes. He can break ankles and spirits with his handle. He possesses a passel of creative finishes and floaters. There’s never been anyone quite like him in the 75 seasons of the NBA.
The degree of difficulty on some of the shots he hit — such as the fourth-quarter floater he nailed around Robert Williams — demanded an Olympic judging panel sitting courtside.
“Some of those were some crazy shots that were highly contested that he made,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka, whose team had been plus-40 in the fourth quarter of the first three games.
“Some of the threes he hit were highly contested and you can’t do anything about those.”
This was a night where nothing could be done about Curry, except to sit back, tip your cap, and marvel. Curry foiled the Celtics and turned them into his foil for an epic effort.
The Celtics and their fans were in the presence of greatness, but it didn’t feel so great.