How a legendary performance from Stephen Curry changed the NBA Finals

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The Golden State Warriors built a dynasty playing a beautiful brand of basketball predicated on movement, passing and creativity. Down 2-1 and desperate for a win on hostile ground in Boston’s TD Garden, the Warriors displayed precious little of that choreography, but managed to eke out a rugged 107-97 win to knot the NBA Finals as the series returns to San Francisco for Game 5 on Monday (9 p.m. ET on ABC).

For a team that shares the ball as a defining quality of their style, the Warriors relied heavily on Stephen Curry once again. The two-time MVP was brilliant on Friday night. Against the NBA’s top-ranked defense that has zeroed in on the game’s most celebrated shooter, Curry found the smallest pockets of space against the Celtics’ pick-and-roll coverage to launch looping shots from long distance and acrobatic runners off the dribble. He finished with 43 points on 14-for-26 shooting, including 7-for-14 from beyond the arc, and 8-for-9 from the line. The smallest starter for either team also grabbed 10 rebounds in 41 minutes.

The Warriors have traditionally featured plenty of firepower during their dynastic run, but they have struggled to find consistent shot creation outside of Curry’s exploits. Golden State has had to rely on Curry, with heavy usage of a more traditional pick-and-roll game to maximize his shot opportunities. Curry worked tirelessly in Game 4 off the dribble in isolation against any favorable matchups — and the strong Celtics’ defense presents few of them.

For Curry, Game 4 was a showcase of both prolific volume and dramatic timeliness. The step-back 3-pointer he drained off a return bounce pass from Draymond Green gave the Warriors a six-point lead inside of two minutes remaining, and silenced the boisterous Garden crowd.

For Curry, Friday night was his seventh-career Finals game with seven 3-pointers. Only a single player in NBA history has more than one (Ray Allen with a pair), according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. Game 4 was his second-highest output ever in a Finals game, and the first time a guard has notched a 40-point, 10-rebound line since Dwyane Wade in the 2006 Finals.

In the closing minutes, the Warriors still managed to produce a gem from their patented playbook when the Celtics trapped Curry off a screen from Green. As he’s done countless times during this era, Curry sent a pass over the double-team to an open Green, who found Looney for a high-low pass — Warriors ballet that pushed the Warriors lead to five points with just over a minute left.

The Celtics, who led for most of the game, looked as if they’d get a long-awaited signature performance from Jayson Tatum, who entered the game averaging 22 points over the first three games on a woeful true shooting percentage of 48.4. Both Tatum and Jaylen Brown turned in solid efforts — decisive, assertive attacks with smart playmaking. Yet in the closing frame, the Celtics simply couldn’t convert opportunities, as they dropped the fourth quarter 28-19. They missed seven of their final eight shots as Golden State ended the game on a 17-3 run.

While Game 4 will undoubtedly have a prominent page in Curry’s personal scrapbook, it was not necessarily material for the Warriors’ time capsule. Green continued to struggle, and found himself on the bench for much of the fourth quarter. While Klay Thompson sank a key 3-pointer late, he continues to struggle to find and make looks. Swingman Otto Porter Jr. (2 points, 0-for-2 shooting), who started in place of center Kevon Looney, couldn’t generate the timely offense he’d provided in previous postseason games. And their 20 overall assists is a pittance for a team that won championships with the pass.

Yet the Warriors will fly home to San Francisco as the series favorite for the first time in a week, whatever the unsightly deficiencies and festering issues. Curry is one of those singular NBA players who can make you forget about what’s lacking and celebrate what’s there.

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