The unanimous Most Valuable Player looked all but that during the 2016 postseason. Stephen Curry had one of the best regular seasons of all-time and nothing can deny that. His playoff performance was forgettable and might have cost the Golden State Warriors the NBA Championship. Many factors hurt Golden State's chance to go back to back and win another title, but it's hard to ignore the Curry's constant struggles on the court.
Was he tired? Was it his injuries? Was he simply outplayed? Were the defenses too physical? Was he not made for the stage? Several questions come to mind and there will be many other hot takes from journalists, social media, fans, and anyone else around the world all summer long. A player of this stature doesn't just regress like that when the pressure is at it's highest; there has to be something more to it.
“I’ll take it on the chin because I know I didn’t play my best,” Curry said Monday in the team's exit interviews.
The first game of the postseason was electric at Oracle Arena. The Warriors had just set the single-reason win record with 73 under their belt, but they knew the job wasn't done. They knew that without a title, it wouldn't hold much value. Playing against their 2015 Western Conference Finals foes, Curry was up against a difficult matchup. Patrick Beverley is no walk in the park. As one of the peskiest defenders in the league, he intended to make Curry's workload even harder than it normally is. With ease, the MVP scored 24 points in 20 minutes, making 5 of his 7 three-pointers and missing only five shots total that night. He even got into an altercation with Beverley, something we rarely see from the baby-faced guard.
Later in the game, something happened that changed everything.
Curry hurt his foot and ankle on a play and had to go back to the locker room. He went on to miss the next two games. The Warriors went 1-1. He returned for Game 4 and his already lingering injuries took another hit. At the end of the second quarter, Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court, causing him to hurt his knee. He wasn't able to finish out the game and ended up missing the next four due to a sprained MCL.
Two weeks later, he made a return to the Semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers. With Shaun Livingston being ejected for the first time in his career, Curry, who was supposedly on a minutes limit, had to start the second half and ended up playing 37 minutes and dropping 40 points. The overtime classic saw a complete takeover by Curry, who confidently yelled "I'm back, I'm back" after a tirade of points.
After that moment, nothing was really the same for Curry. He's had moments where his shot has looked really, really good: Game 2 against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals and Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland. Outside of that, he's struggled in several aspects of the game.
Curry's shot has been off. Whoa, it felt weird just to type that sentence. Everyone is entitled to an off game here and there, but his misses were way off the basket. Curry shot just 43 percent from the field during the postseason but shot 50 percent during the regular season. He also dropped to 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc, five below his season average.
It's no secret, defenses are tougher in the playoffs. They're much more physical and officials let players get away with a bit more. Curry was running through backdoor screens set by nearly everyone on the team, but he wasn't able to get free as much as he did during the regular season. In his last two home games, Curry shot 14-40 from the field. However, he missed tons of open shots as well throughout the playoffs. It didn't seem like it was a confidence type of thing, because Curry kept launching. He didn't have it in his legs, it seemed as if he lost a step.
Speaking of losing a step, Curry struggled to beat anyone off the dribble. Over and over again, we saw him beat players (especially bigs, aka BBQ chicken) and get to the rim with ease. He couldn't do that during the postseason. Whether it was Serge Ibaka, Tristan Thompson, and yes, even Kevin Love, Curry couldn't get past them on numerous occasions. Instead, he'd have to settle for a contested three-pointer that ended up clanking off the rim.
A laughable take about Curry is that if his shot isn't going in, he doesn't offer much else which is far from the truth. This postseason, it seemed that way. He got hot in stints, but failed to keep it consistent. Teams were still often double-teaming the Davidson product and putting pressure on him as soon as he touched the ball in the backcourt. They wore him down and the bad knee didn't help his cause at all.
Unfortunately, Curry was concerned with getting his scoring going and his playmaking took a hit. Careless passes hurt the Warriors despite winning 73 games, and the theme continued in the playoffs. Curry had 93 assists to 75 turnovers in 18 playoff games, making his mother rich in the process.
He's always been criticized for his defense, but Curry had his best defensive season as a pro this year. He struggled in the postseason though. He's already less athletic than most players, losing that extra burst of speed hurt him in many matchups against faster and stronger opponents. Offenses tried to expose Curry defensively.
Teams have common sense; they knew that Curry wasn't 100 percent and tried to take advantage. I know, not everyone is fully healthy at this point of the season. That part is evident. But not everyone is rushing back from a sprained MCL and playing in a fierce postseason with high competition. He's already withdrawn from Team USA as a result.
If you're going to play, you will be analyzed if you're hurt or not. Curry was, that's obvious. But he made many mistakes that he could have handled better despite his injuries. Kyrie Irving played like he was the best point guard in the NBA Finals and LeBron James played like the best player. One of those is actually factual.
Despite the thousands of hot takes you'll see, Curry is still clearly a better player than Irving. But the best player in the league crown goes back to LeBron James. He's the face of the NBA again. Winning cures all and the Cavaliers did just that. It'll be a long offseason for Golden State, starting with getting Curry healthy.