NBA

Curry silences naysayers and seals place in NBA's pantheon of all-time greats

By Sports Desk June 17, 2022

Stephen Curry is used to the feeling of winning. It is one that has defined his spectacular career. However, watching him to sink to the court in tears in the final seconds of the Golden State Warriors' Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics, it was clear Curry was not used to being quite so overcome by triumph.

The Warriors' 103-90 win at TD Garden, sealed by Curry's 34-point blitz, secured their fourth NBA title in eight seasons and, as Golden State revelled in returning to the mountaintop, it was tough to disagree with co-owner Joe Lacob's assessment that this one was the most meaningful.

Curry's outpouring of emotion upon the final buzzer illustrated as such, the Warriors' hoisting of the Larry O'Brien Trophy capping a remarkable journey for a team many believed had reached the end of their time in the sun.

Two seasons ago, with Kevin Durant having departed for the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson starting the first of two injury-enforced seasons on the sideline following the torn ACL he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals series with the Toronto Raptors, the Warriors had the worst record in the league at 15-50, a hand injury suffered in the fourth game of the campaign severely restricting Curry's involvement.

There was agony in 2020-21 as an MVP calibre season from Curry ended with defeat in the play-in tournament, Thompson again a spectator, this time with a torn Achilles that kept him out until January 2022.

Even with Thompson's return on the horizon, few anticipated the core of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green to dazzle on the Finals stage in 2022, the Warriors' decision to hold on to the draft assets they accumulated rather than packaging them to acquire a fourth star met with scepticism in plenty of corners.

Those sceptics have now been silenced. While the faith in the blend of youth and experience and the unqualified success of the trade for former number one overall pick - and Golden State's second-best player in these Finals - Andrew Wiggins, played major roles in shutting up the critics, it was Curry who ultimately sealed the lips of Golden State's doubters.

Doubters have been a bewildering constant during Curry's career, even as he has blossomed into the greatest shooter in NBA history, one whose seemingly unlimited range has revolutionised the game of basketball.

Curry's resume has long since been sparkling and he has continued to embellish it. Prior to the Finals, he already had three NBA titles, two MVPs (the second of which made him the league's first unanimous winner) and the all-time record for three-pointers.

Still, there was never a shortage of observers who would respond to those list of achievements with "Yeah, but..."

"Yeah, but Kyrie Irving got hurt in 2015", "Yeah, but he won two rings after they signed Durant", "Yeah, but he doesn't have a Finals MVP".

Finally, the sceptics can no longer rely on their extremely pedantic excuses to deny Curry's position among the all-time greats, which is firmly secured after a Finals in which he was the dominant force.

Curry averaged 31.2 points per game, almost 10 full points more than his nearest challenger, Jayson Tatum (21.5), and his 31 three-pointers were comfortably the most by any player in the series. He averaged five assists per game - only Tatum (7) and Green (6.2) had more, while he was also third in average plus-minus (5.8). The two players ahead of him on the list, Kevon Looney (8) and Gary Payton II (7), averaged 21.7 and 18.6 minutes per game in the series respectively, Curry spent 37.5 minutes per game on the court.

The devastating offense provided by Curry, who supplements his devastating deep shooting by attacking the rim for lay-ups with the same remarkable consistency, was undoubtedly the decisive factor in the series. Indeed, Curry's production and the attention it forces defenses to commit to him had the Celtics bereft of ideas of how to stop the Warriors by Game 6, Golden State at one point in the first half going on a 21-0 scoring run that marked the longest in the last 50 years of Finals history.

Curry's 'gravity' cannot be overstated, the Warriors' supporting cast continuing to reap the benefits of the additional space the threat posed by their star point guard creates.

With Curry on the court in the Finals, the Warriors averaged 111.9 points per 100 possessions. That dipped to 90.1 points when he was off the floor. Their field goal percentage with Curry in the lineup was 47.1, compared to 34.9 with him on the bench.

Illustrating his effectiveness both beyond and inside the arc, the Warriors hit on 38.3 per cent of their three-point field goal attempts and averaged 42.2 points in the paint per 100 possessions with Curry in the team. Without him, they connected on 30.9 per cent of threes and put up 21.5 points in the paint per 100.

The Warriors' point differential in the Finals per 100 possessions with Curry on court was plus-7.6. In his absence, it was minus 6.2, a swing of 13.8 points in a series where Golden State's average margin of victory in their wins was... 13 points.

That plethora of evidence left Curry as the only, and indeed unanimous, selection for Finals MVP, moving him into exalted company.

Curry is the sixth player to have won four NBA titles, multiple league MVP awards and a Finals MVP. The other five are LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan. Among players to have won at least two titles, he is second for points averaged in championship-clinching games (32.5). Only Jordan (33.7) stands above him.

The territory Curry occupies is shared by undisputed basketball legends, and he knows his previous doubters now do not have the qualifiers with which to dispute his legacy.

"I hear all the narratives," Curry said. "You hear everything about what we [as a team] are and what we aren't, and what I am as a player and what I'm not. I have a hard time figuring out what they're going to say now, so this is pretty special."

The reasons used by those who sought to keep Curry out of the NBA's pantheon of all-time greats have always been dubious at best. Now, after a career-defining Finals performance, they are non-existent and, regardless of what else he achieves before he retires, his place is reserved for good.

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