Steph Curry saves best for last in Warriors’ series-clinching win


Steph saves best for last in Warriors’ series-clinching win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — Steph Curry played his 117th NBA playoff game Wednesday night, and his first as a starter since June 13, 2019. That date sounds exaggerated, but it’s the reality after Curry unselfishly came off the bench in the first four games of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Denver Nuggets after recovering from a sprained left foot.

He waited two frustrating years to be back in the playoffs, and it’s no surprise he saved his best for last to help lead the Warriors to their first-round series win, beating the Nuggets 102-98 in Game 5 at Chase Center, as his chase for a fourth NBA championship ring continues.

“I was a witness,” Gary Payton II said of Curry’s fourth-quarter performance. “Really, I was a witness letting him cook. Create plays for him. Try to get him open looks and after that, you know what he does.”

Payton and Curry played hero in the fourth quarter, combining to score 21 of the Warriors’ 32 points in the final 12 minutes after Golden State entered with an eight-point deficit through three quarters.

Curry came into the fourth quarter at the 8:48 mark with the Warriors down 83-79. Just 29 seconds later, he closed the gap with two free throws. He went nearly five minutes without scoring again, but timing is everything. Following two Nikola Jokic free throws that again made it just a two-point game, Curry drained a 19-foot jumper to give the Warriors a 90-86 lead with 3:31 left.

But Jokic and the Nuggets kept answering the call. Every time the Warriors tried to hit them with one final knockout punch, they got back up and returned the favor. That is, until Curry reminded Denver and Dub Nation he has been through everything the playoffs can throw someone’s way.

Clutch time and Curry time go hand in hand.

With just over a minute-and-a-half remaining and the clock ticking down, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Aaron Gordon tried to pick up the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Curry near halfcourt. Curry, with his back turned to Gordon, calmly dribbled with his left hand before turning to his left, slicing through the Nuggets’ defense and flipping in two more points with Gordon and Jokic, 7-foot and 284 pounds, trying to get in his way.

Advantage Curry. Warriors 94, Nuggets 90.

One minute later, it was time for Steph to put the Nuggets to sleep one last time and send them packing back to Denver.

Gordon tried to get in his way. Nope. Monte Morris tried to alter his path. Nope. And Jokic had no chance.

A three-point game turned into a five-point game with 29.9 seconds to go. Game over. Good night.

“He’s our leader,” Clay Thompson said of Curry after the win. “Our longest-tenured player, our MVP. Without him, life is difficult.

“Steph Curry is one of a kind, and will continue to do the spectacular and make it look effortless.”

Curry scored 11 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. He came out and scored eight points in the first quarter in his return as a starter, before scoring just two in the second quarter as the Warriors’ offense struggled. In the third, he caught fire from a long distance with all nine of his points coming from behind the 3-point line.

But in the fourth quarter, he missed his only 3-point attempt and flexed his muscles to his four most important points of the night. The moment didn’t call for him letting it fly from deep. The Nuggets tried to send a bigger body his way, and instead of leaning back, he put his foot on the gas and got to the basket.

“He’s a lot stronger,” Draymond Green said of Curry’s ability to drive to the basket. “When he’s driving to the hole, what teams used to do is bump him off his path. Can’t move him anymore. Once he gets his head down and he wants to get to the rim, he’s getting there because you have to overreact to the shot.

“But once he put his head down and drives it, and he’s committed to getting to the hole, he’s strong enough to take those bumps and not get pushed off his path.”

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To Curry, it all comes down to feel. He felt in rhythm from 3-point range in the third quarter, stepped into his shot and that usually means three points for the Warriors. Once he saw a big on him late in the game and could envision the driving lanes opening up, he forced Denver’s defense into an uncomfortable position, got downhill and that usually means two points for the stronger, bearded Curry now at 34 years old.

He also could feel the crowd in those final minutes. For long stretches of the night, Chase Center fell silent. Instead of banging thunder sticks or waving rally rags, they bit their fingers in anticipation. As the Nuggets’ lead dwindled, though, the decibels grew inside a building new to the playoffs.

Nobody can get a crowd to its feet like Curry, and the feeling had him back at home, closing out a playoff series and stamping his legacy once more.

“It was fun, it was electric, it was loud,” Curry said of the crowd. “Fourth quarter, yeah, you could tell — it was kind of a collective anxiousness in there, and a great celebration afterwards.

“That’s what it’s all about, really.”

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