Steph Curry’s humility is the unsung hero of Golden State’s historic comeback.
Steph Curry’s leadership played an important role in the Golden State Warrior’s historic comeback, but what many sports writers are going to ignore or forget is that Curry was humbled by various events during the series, yet he never wavered from being a team player. Curry’s humility is truly the unsung hero of the of Golden State’s historic comeback.
The first humbling experience Steph had to endure was being reassigned to guard a less experienced player. Let’s talk about Curry’s defense. In all fairness, Curry’s man-to-man defense is mediocre, but great leaders know their weaknesses and play to their strengths. It was clear by game four in the series that Steph Curry could not guard Russell Westbrook, and so the team took him off that defensive assignment completely. It was stark and humbling. The MVP of the season could not guard the opposing star of his own position. But Steph did not pout. Humbled, he instead accepted his reassignment like a trooper. To add insult to injury, during a press conference when Westbrook and Kevin Durant were questioned about Steph Curry’s inability to guard athletic guards, they laughed. Any fierce competitor would have wanted to prove them wrong, so there’s no doubt that thought entered Curry’s mind, but he stuck to the script and still did not waver. Great leaders know their weaknesses, and he was not going to become a shut-down defender during the course of that series (that’s what Andre Iguodala is for). So instead of taking on the taunts directly, Curry focused on the type of defense he plays well.
Steph Curry is adept at playing like the basketball version of a free safety, where he is allowed to play off-man and at crucial moments steal passes in the lanes. This is exactly what he did at a crucial moment in game six of the Western Conference finals. It is interesting to note that the humbling did not stop at mocking Curry’s defense — critics and pundits were calling for Steph’s unanimous MVP award to be rescinded, but Curry did not allow the critics to affect his leadership. As Klay Thompson recounted, “Steph told me before I went out in the fourth, ‘This is your time, put on a show out there, and have fun.’” And Klay Thompson went on to put on a show for the ages. This is in stark contrast to what Westbrook and Durant did. Instead of trusting their teammates in the fourth quarter of critical game six, they went hero ball without the hero guns. Another important fact missed in game six was not only was Klay Thompson making his 3-point shots, but the Warriors defense was also solid and made the Thunders miss their shots.
Humility does not mean lack of confidence. Steph Curry was very confident, and he did not shy away from doing what he does supremely well. That confidence showed up big time in the third and fourth quarters in game seven. It all began when the Thunder’s center Steven Adams had to guard Curry because of a screen set on Westbrook (up until that point Adams had a great game), and Curry used the perimeter mismatch to create enough space to shoot threes over Steven Adams. Ironically, when it was clear that center Steven Adams could not guard Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, no one thought they should help or sub him out, and he kept getting burned for much of the third quarter. When Coach Lue finally subbed out Steven Adams, it was too late the damage was done.
Now in game one of the 2016 NBA Finals, Steph Curry and Klay Thomson both did not have good games. Curry scored 11 points on 4 of 15 shooting and Klay had similarly abysmal numbers. Yet they cheered on their bench performance while they sat on the bench and watched. It was visually obvious that Curry was not happy with his performance, but he stayed true to being a team player. It should be clear (or maybe not) to everyone watching that the success of the Warriors is not just about Curry; he is a great player on a historically great team. For his team to win, Curry does not have to play hero ball, but heroic ball, and must be willing to sacrifice his pride so that his team could win.