Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Since Stephen Curry arrived in Golden State, the Warriors have been his team. That will remain the case until he gets a statue outside of Chase Center, and possibly even beyond that.
It was his team throughout the lean years at the start of his career. It was his team when he led the turnaround of the franchise. And it was his team, even as Kevin Durant won back-to-back NBA Finals MVPs.
To argue otherwise simply is a misrecollection of NBA history and a misunderstanding of Curry’s greatness. Given how much he has accomplished, you’d think such instances would be few and far between. Alas, we know that not to be the case.
It happened again Friday, as Complex Sports’ David Zavac questioned whether Curry will be able to — as he put it — shoot his way back out of Durant’s shadow. The article makes several good points about the feasibility of Golden State’s immediate return to title contention, but it is built off an entirely incorrect premise.
“At that point, Curry had a title,” Zavac wrote of approximately four years ago. “He has won two more. If that’s all you knew, you’d probably guess that maintaining that level of play and adding the championships would solidify his space in the debates about greatness. Then Kevin Durant joined the Warriors in 2017, and Durant won two Finals MVPs, and what was so clearly Curry’s team felt a little bit less like that.
“But that leads us to today. Warriors fans hated that Curry’s place with the team was called into question. To a degree, it’s understandable.”
To a degree? No, it’s entirely understandable, since that never actually happened.
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Yes, Durant rightfully was named Finals MVP twice, and he hit the big shots that will be replayed over and over again. But let’s not pretend like the Cavs had any answer for Curry in those series.
Just look at his per-game averages:
2017: 26.8 pts, 5.4 ast, 8.2 reb
2018: 27.5 pts, 6.8 ast, 6.0 reb
Those were compiled over nine total games. That’s how many games it took the Warriors to win not one, but two best-of-seven NBA Finals series against LeBron James and the Cavs. If Curry was so overshadowed by Durant, how was he so productive? And to take it a step further, if Curry was so overshadowed by Durant, what does that say about James’ greatness?
Yes, Curry intentionally deferred to arguably the greatest scorer in NBA history. That didn’t put him in Durant’s shadow; rather, their combined greatness cast one over the rest of the league. Durant arguably doesn’t win those awards — or titles — if Curry was in the back seat.
But, hold on. There’s more.
“If Curry can in fact win another NBA title as the best player on his team, a lot of the criticism about a blown 3-1 Finals lead and relying on Durant to knock off a healthy Cavs team could go away,” Zavac continued. “There would be powerful new evidence that Curry had in fact been selfless in taking a step back for Durant, and that the core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green would have been enough for a dynasty to reign on its own.”
Again, I point to Curry’s series averages as a wholehearted retort against the description that he relied on Durant. And, if you’re going to mention the Cavs’ health in 2017 and 2018, you can’t ignore that Curry was physically limited in 2016 — and still managed to come within a minute of leading his team to a series victory over a fully-healthy Cleveland squad. You can’t have it both ways.
And, if you’re searching for “powerful new evidence” of Curry’s selflessness, maybe listen to what Durant had to say on the subject:
— Urkle (@urkle9) June 12, 2020
“The stuff you hear about Steph as far as sacrificing and being selfless and caring about his teammates, caring about other people — it’s real,” Durant said of Curry after winning their first title together. “It’s not fake. It’s not a facade. He doesn’t put on his mask or his suit every single day to come in here and fake it in front of you guys. He really is like that. And it’s amazing to see a superstar who sacrifices, who doesn’t care about nothing but the group. And he obviously wants to play well, he obviously wants to show who he is cuz he’s competitive, but it’s all about the group.”
And now, for the grand finale.
“One more title for Steph Curry on his own,” Zavac added, “and those jokes from LeBron’s fans will look fairly ridiculous.”
Sorry, but the 3-1 jokes looked ridiculous as soon as that represented the Warriors’ Finals record against the Cavs. The point is to win, after all.
As Zavac noted, there are legitimate questions as to whether Curry will be able to win a fourth championship. He won’t have to emerge from Durant’s shadow to do so, however, because he was never in it to begin with.