Stephen Curry reminds us why he’s the MVP in return from injury – USA TODAY
Most Valuable PlayerÂ announcements are a tricky thing sometimes.
At a time when the NBA playoffs are the focus, when the hope shared by all in the league office in New York is that the games themselves spark the global conversation, thereâs an annual reminder of how great a certain player was in all the months that came before. This was particularly true for Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors this year.
This forthcoming celebration of his second consecutive MVP awardÂ that is expected Tuesday afternoon was, in essence, like throwing a bachelor party for a guy whose engagement was on the rocks.
Curry was still recovering from the right knee sprain that had cost him four-and-a-half games, this after a right ankle sprain took him out for all but one half of the first three games in these playoffs.
The reigning MVPâs grand total contributionÂ in the playoffs for the defending champions? Two out of eight games played, 39 minutes in all, 30 points and two horribly-timed injuries. After pulling off one of the best individual seasons in league history, Curry â by way of sheer rotten circumstance â had been mostly a no-show.
And then, this.
Curry, with a Houdini-like flair for the dramatic, unlocked the key to his own health just in time for a performance that was as perfect an MVP ceremony segue as youâll ever find.
If you havenât seen the Warriorsâ 132-125 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers that put them up 3-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals on Monday, just fast forward to the 10:38 mark of the fourth quarter and enjoy some of the best round-ball ridiculousness that youâll ever see.
On this night when he finally returned from the MCL sprain, coming off the bench midway through the first quarter and looking shaky through three quarters (6-of-18 shooting overall, 0-of-9 from three-point range), Mt. Curry erupted with a 40-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist outing that left ash all over the fine city of Portland. Those final 16 minutes, to be more specific, were greatness defined: 10-of-14 shooting (5-of-7 from three-point range) for a total of 27 points. Curryâs 17 points in the five-minute overtime (6-of-7Â shooting overall, 3-for-3 from three-point range) were the most by any player in an overtime in the history of the game (regular season and playoffs).
But as unspeakably dominant as Curry was, the even more remarkable part is that this grand old show was merely the latest of its kind in this season-long tour. The man rewrote the record books during the Warriorsâ historic 73-9 regular season.
He buried 402 3-pointers after setting the record with 296 the year before, got so much better off of an MVP season that he was a serious candidate for Most Improved Player (scoring spiked from 23.8 points per game to a league-leading 30.8; accuracy increased). He changed the game in the kind of way that wonât soon be forgotten, if only because heâll be a thorn in the rest of the leagueâs side for years to come ensuring thatâs the case.
Even with the nonstop news cycle that surrounds Curry, the average Joe still likely doesnât grasp what Curry accomplished this season. Specifically, his decision to test the limits of his three-point prowess was the kind of basketball lab work that the Michael Jordans, Magic Johnsons and Larry Birds of this world never thought theyâd see. Those three players combined, by the way, hit fewer three-pointers (1,555) in their entire careers than Curry has in his first even seasons (1,593, and who knows how many more if the ankle problems hadnât slowed him down?).
From one year to the next, with Curry having already attempted a career-high 8.1 threes per game last season, he dared to dream and jacked up 11.2 per game. The fact that his three-point percentage got even better (44.3% to 45.4%) simply wasnât fair.
âItâs easy to kind of just say how going from eight (attempts per game) to 11, you just shoot three more threes a game,â Curry explained in anÂ April interview with USA TODAY Sports. âLike, how hard is it to do that? But in this game, with the way defenses are and things like that, you have to be very creative and very purposeful about how you get those shots because you want to continue with the accuracy. Thatâs something I pride myself a lot on. Shooting 11 threesÂ is â you could probably force a lot of them, jack up a couple shots and get yourself to that point. But to shoot the percentage that I want to shoot and keep having the consistency, thatâs what Iâm about.
âItâs about creating space on the floor, itâs about being tighter with my handle, more explosive with every move that I make and having an IQ and the confidence, obviously, that no matter what shot I take â whether itâs a three-dribble combo move, step-back or whatever, some shot that most people probably wouldnât take that I have confidence in â Iâm going to take it, and I feel like itâs going to go in. The stuff that I do in the summers and workouts, and the things that I do mentally to prepare for games is all about executing that out on the floor.â
Mentally. Physically. Metaphysically. All of the above, with an entire league below.