How a legendary performance from Stephen Curry changed the NBA Finals

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    Kevin ArnovitzESPN Staff Writer

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    • NBA writer for ESPN.com since 2008
    • Former contributor and editor at NPR

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 its style, the Warriors relied heavily on Stephen Curry once again. Friday night was a great game for the two-time MVP. Curry was brilliant against the NBA’s top-ranked defense. Curry found the smallest spaces in the Celtics pick-and-roll coverage to launch looping shots long distance and acrobatic runners off of 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 been known for their offensive prowess, but have struggled to create consistent shots outside of Curry’s exploits. Golden State has had no choice but to rely on Curry. Curry uses a traditional pick-and roll game heavily to maximize his shot chances. Curry worked tirelessly in Game 4 from the dribble alone against any favorable matchups — and there were few with the strong Celtics defense. Game 4 was a display of both explosive volume and dramatic timeliness for Curry. 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. Curry’s seventh Finals game was Friday night with seven 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only one other player in NBA history has made more than one (3-pointers by Ray Allen) 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 final minutes of the game, the Warriors produced a gem from their patented playbook. Curry was taken off the screen by the Celtics. Curry sent a pass to the double-team, which was something he did many times in this era. The Warriors found Looney for a high low pass, pushing the lead to five points with less than a minute remaining.

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 be a prominent part of Curry’s scrapbook, it wasn’t necessarily material for the Warriors time capsule. Green struggled throughout the fourth quarter and was left on the bench. 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 20 overall assists is a pittance for a team that won championships with the pass. The Warriors will fly home from San Francisco as the series favourite for the first time in a row, despite all the unsightly flaws and lingering issues. Curry is one of those rare NBA players who can make it easy to forget about the bad and celebrate what’s good.

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