But make no mistake: Curry is the enemy and prime villain in this series, for one reason: It’s absolutely terrifying to have him standing in the way of the fulfillment of your team’s basketball dreams.
Curry has never obstructed the Celtics before. They haven’t gotten far enough over the past decade to give him the chance. Now, with the Celtics leading this series, 2-1, it’s impossible not to daydream about Banner 18 being raised to the Garden rafters.
All they have to do is stifle the best shooter who ever lived, one who scored 21 points in the first quarter of the opener of this series, sparked a ridiculous 7-point possession during a 31-point effort in Game 3, and is capable at any time of ripping off, oh, 9 points in 45 seconds.
The Celtics have overcome Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler this postseason. They have systematically eliminated the last three teams to eliminate them from the playoffs. But there’s nothing quite as daunting as trying to contain a locked-in Steph Curry.
I believe the Celtics are about to win the 2022 NBA championship. I do. This is a team of determination and destiny. But Curry, provided that the foot injury he suffered late in Game 3 is not a hindrance, is going to make their degree of difficulty in achieving that excruciating.
Basketball torture is not just watching Tony Brothers attempt to officiate a game, or hearing Grant Williams’s never-ending dialogue with the officials. Basketball torture is also that split-second of anticipation between when Curry launches an important shot and the moment when we find out whether it’s good. It’s usually good.
It is disconcerting seeing Curry this way, from the perspective of opponent and nemesis. He’s been so easy to root for, almost for 15 years now, from his arrival in the national sports consciousness as a baby-faced assassin during Davidson’s Elite Eight run in 2008, to his 54-point game at Madison Square Garden in 2013 that felt like his NBA stardom origin story, to the Warriors’ first title in ‘15, the ultimately unfulfilling 73-9 season in ‘16, and all of his assorted long-distance feats since.
The most fun I’ve ever had at an NBA game when I was there as a fan rather than lugging around a notebook, laptop, and heavy deadline, was the Warriors’ visit to the Garden on Dec. 11, 2015. They arrived with a 23-0 record and the aura of a classic heavyweight champion.
They were the best show in sports — Curry’s pregame warmup routine was and remains worth the price of admission — and the Celtics gave them all they could handle before the Warriors prevailed in double overtime. (Their winning streak ended with a 13-point loss in Milwaukee the next night. The Celtics wore ‘em out, I tell you.)
What stood out more than anything that night was Curry’s grasp of what he meant to people, particularly young fans. After finishing his warmup, he stood under the overhang in the visitors tunnel and signed autographs and chatted with people for upward of 15 minutes. I can’t recall any superstar, at least with the visiting team, being so casually generous with his time.
I’m not sure “humble” would be the precise word to describe him. He’s unassuming for sure, but he also knows exactly how good he is, and that shows up on the court in brash ways, such as his shimmying after swishing important shots.
Some of those Curry mannerisms that were charming as the Warriors ascended and even after they maintained their dynasty can look suspiciously like affectations when he’s on the opposite side of your rooting interests. Mouth guards aren’t meant to be chewable, man.
I do, however, recognize that I need to issue an apology. A column or two ago, after Curry dropped 29 points in the Warriors’ Game 2 win, I asked offhandedly when he became as annoying as Derek Jeter with all of those camera-ready reactions. That was not fair. Curry’s reactions seem mostly authentic. Plus, he hits triples, not singles. And he can go to his left.
The truth is that Curry does everything with flair. It’s endless fun when you’re pulling for him. But when he’s out there launching 3-pointers designed to destroy your championship dreams and shimmying like he has no idea that he stole Antoine Walker’s move, it’s frustrating to the point that one of the NBA’s most likable superstars of all-time becomes … well, temporarily loathsome.
If it weren’t so frowned upon, you might catch yourself wishing Marcus Smart would “accidentally” kick him in the shin when he shimmies, or that Al Horford would punt his mouthpiece into the 300-level seats. Hey, sometimes there’s no dignity in being a true fan.
Chances are we’ll find ourselves rooting for Curry again down the road. But not now. Not under these circumstances. Love him again later, but let him have it now. Steph Curry is the enemy. Because sometimes, what you do know is much more frightening than the unknown.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.
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