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Steph Steps Aside as Durant’s Warriors Win NBA Title

June 12th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Basketball, NBA

Let me mention it again.

I have been outside the U.S. for all but a few months since October of 2009.

I remain a fan of all American team sports I once covered as a journalist — baseball, football, basketball …

But I cannot say I have, week in and week out, seen all the best teams and players in all the U.S. sports, over the past eight years. I see them on special occasions or when we happen to be in the states, but that does not generate enough “views” of top players and top teams to have a granular sense of them and what they are about.

However …

I saw portions of every game in these NBA Finals, in part because of “luck” in waking in the middle of the European night.  Game 5 began at 3 a.m. French time, and I came around about 3:15 and tuned in because I was interested. Sleep? That’s for the other side of dawn.

And there were the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And what impressed me, about the series won by the Warriors in the wee hours tonight, was this:

It is not often that an elite NBA player still in his prime gives up “his” team to a guy who just joined the squad.

But that is exactly what Stephen Curry did.

Or maybe it was more about Kevin Durant seizing top-dog status from Curry in a sort of (at least outwardly) friendly takeover

Let’s go to the statistics.

In the now-completed five-game series, Durant led Curry in points per game (35.2 to 26.8), minutes (39.7-37.7), rebounds (8.4-8.0), shooting percentage (55.6-44.0) and three-point percentage (47.4 to 33.8).

Who looks like the main man there?

Compare that to the 2016 Finals, won in seven games by Cleveland. Curry was the scoring leader for the Warriors (22.6 per game) but it was more of an ensemble performance, with Klay Thompson at 19.6 and Draymond Green at 16.5. The next four Warriors scorers (Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa) collectively averaged a considerable 34.9 per game.

Even in the 2015 Finals, after Curry’s breakout season, he did not look capable of winning games without help. He averaged 26.0 ppg, with Iguodola (the series MVP, by the way) at 16.3. Thompson was at 15.8 and Green at 13.0.

Curry and Thompson were known as the Splash Brothers — and I suppose they still are, even if the Warriors’ biggest splasher is Durant.

Looking back at the Warriors-Cavaliers trilogy … the first was a Curry production as that revolutionary side won in six games. The second was LeBron James’s greatest moment, as he produced a memorable victory in seven.

And the third was Durant’s breakthrough.

It was not simply a matter of statistics, and Curry did not defer to his 7-foot teammate at every turn. But it was obvious to all of us that Durant took the crucial shots in this series — and nearly always made them.

When the series concluded, LeBron James went directly to Durant to offer congratulations. And why not? Durant was the man the Cavaliers (and often James himself) could not cover. The 7-footer with arguably the best three-point shooting in the game.

Curry must have seen this coming, when the Warriors began wooing Durant, nearly a year ago. And he apparently was OK with it.

But once the season began, it was not Thompson or Green who gave up touches and saw their scoring shrink. It was Curry, as much as anyone else. Durant became The Man, at the expense of a two-time MVP.

Which just very rarely happens.

Remember when Shaquille O’Neal refused to recognize that his team had become Kobe Bryant’s? It was war, until Shaq was sent away. The ultimate big dog, Wilt Chamberlain, joined a Lakers team with Jerry West and was the more accomplished player … but Wilt immediately shifted into a complimentary role.

Scottie Pippen was the Bulls’ main man for that season-and-change Michael Jordan was playing baseball, but Michael was Chicago’s capo the minute he returned.

So, Curry and the Warriors … it seems now like they did their thing in 2015, LeBron and the Cavaliers found a way to counter it in 2016, and then Durant showed up and tipped the scales back the other way again. Decisively.

Curry and Durant each are 29. It is not as if one will be old and gray before the other, and the feeling here is that the Golden State now is “KD and the Warriors … featuring Steph Curry.”

 

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Marvin Reiter // Jun 13, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    It was quite a series. The key to me was looking at the shooting %. 55.6 to 44.0. Curry even missed 3 FTs yesterday. I got the feeling that Curry knows who he is and just wanted to let KD go up against LJ. Irving and Love didn’t step up as well as Curry and Igoudala stepped up in the supporting role. The only one who really kept the Cavs in the game was Smith! Kerr was the man. Superb coaching!

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