OAKLAND, Calif. — When "The Series We Never Wanted to End" finally did, it occurred here, in front of Seat 61 courtside at Oracle Arena. This is where, with 26 seconds left, Steph Curry threw back his shoulders, tilted his head toward the concrete sky and let loose a cathartic roar. He’d just scored 36 points. He’d finished off an unlikely 3-1 series comeback. And he’d reminded those who doubted him—whether in the media or chuckling at a podium—that he remains the most illogical, impossible basketball player on the planet, a two-time MVP whose toughness continues to be second-guessed, as Steve Kerr said, only, “because he looks like he’s 12 years old.”
This was vintage Curry, the kind of performance you’ll tell your kids about one day, only of course they won’t believe you. The kind of night that drives opposing coaches crazy. I mean, if you’re Billy Donovan, what can you say to a guy like Steven Adams? Hey, you did a great job of moving your feet and staying in front of Curry and forcing him to take an off-balance 27-footer but, sorry, going to have to take you out of the game now because we can’t afford to give up any more off-balance 27-footers.
Pick your favorite Curry moment. Was it the lefty running hook to close the first half? Or the moonball, step-back three over the telescoping arms of Kevin Durant? This is the gift of Curry; no matter how many times we see him perform crazy feats, we’re still surprised by them. There exist few basketball observers more jaded than reporters and yet even we cannot help ourselves. When Curry plays like he did last night, we are left turning to each other on press row, out of adjectives, superlatives and sometimes even expletives. We shake our heads. We laugh in disbelief. It’s impossible to be too cool for Steph Curry.
Steve Kerr said he had a hunch about the night, telling his staff during Sunday afternoon's coaches meeting that he thought Curry would go off in Game 7. Same goes for Bruce Fraser, the Warriors assistant and Curry’s shooting guru. “I saw him figuring it out in Game 6 and told Steve ‘It’s coming’,” Fraser says. The timing was back, the form aligned, the knee healthy.
Still, if Game 6 was, as Kerr puts it, “kind of magical,” Game 7 began ugly. Turnovers. Nerves. “Almost overcompeting,” said Draymond Green. In timeouts, Kerr reminded his team, “Force doesn’t beat these guys.” By the middle of the second quarter, the Warriors calmed down. Curry started hot, but Klay went cold. Then Klay warmed up too and it looked like the Warriors might pull away until Kevin Durant barged in to remind us that, yes, he’s also one of the best shooters on the planet. By the end it was basically KD and Steph playing H-O-R-S-E, only Durant ran out of time, if not letters.
Which brings us back to Curry’s moment. Once it was over—once he’d dribbled through the Thunder players like traffic cones, then behind-the-backed Andre Roberson and hit his seventh three—Curry finally let it all out. Yanking out his mouthpiece, he jammed his jersey in his teeth, sprinted toward the sideline, stomped like a tiny sumo wrestler, and then, in front of a giddy E–40, the rapper and unofficial Warriors mascot, Curry threw back his head for that roar. And as he did, all of Oakland seemed to roar back, from the luxury suites to the corner bars to the city buses reading “GO WARRIORS!”, as if fandom were a destination in itself. Later, on the way to the postgame presser, Curry admitted that he lost himself in the moment a bit—though he noted that, “I did see E–40 there”—but who could blame him?
For fans, it was a dream matchup, the rare series that exceeded the hype. Three of the league’s four best players. A 73-win team suddenly vulnerable—openly worried about regaining its identity even—before storming back. All manner of wonderful characters, from heavies Draymond Green and Steven Adams to the perfect buddy-cop ensemble of Enes Kanter and Marreese Speights to Anderson Varejao, the bushy-haired, oft-maligned Brazilian who came off the bench in the climactic game and, in less than two minutes: took a charge, compiled two assists, and scored on a glorious Steph Curry imitation move.
And, rising above it all, Steph. In Game 7, he attacked the basket. He punished Oklahoma City on pick-and-rolls. He avoided risky passes. His plus/minus was +18, double the margin of any other player. After the game, he headed toward the family room in a leather jacket and backwards hat, where Ayesha Curry and his daughters awaited, Riley was passing the time by jousting with inflatable yellow Thunder Stix. Down the hallway stood revelers. There was Bill Walton, chanting “WARR-IORS!” while celebrating with his son, Luke. There, grinning, the Lacob boys. And, lining the halls, people hoping to get a glimpse of Steph as he walked by. It may be another man’s tagline, one who awaits Thursday, but when it comes to Steph right now, it’s fair to say it: We are all just witnesses.