CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry showed up for one of his news conferences with his shoulder heavily wrapped in ice. The two-time MVP said it was a joke because of a report that he may need surgery this summer. But rumblings about his health continue.
The Warriors were one win from eliminating LeBron James and the Cavaliers for the second straight year and capturing back-to-back championships. But heading into Game 6 Thursday night, Curry hadn’t looked like the player that enjoyed a video-game type of regular season.
It’s led to questions about his health and criticism for not putting up MVP-type of numbers in the NBA Finals.
“I don’t really worry about it,” Curry said. “There’s a historical kind of expectation of the all-time greats that have had Finals moments and these kinds of numbers and those kinds of numbers. None of them played for this team and understood how I try to help my team every single night.
“I honestly want to play better and more consistent.”
One year ago to the date, the Warriors celebrated winning the championship right here in Quicken Loans Arena in Game 6 last June 16. They were in the same position Thursday. They had a chance to close out Cleveland again, and with Draymond Green back from a one-game suspension after a dustup with James in Game 4.
The remorseful Green was looking for redemption. Curry had his chance to get it, too — or in Game 7, if necessary. A big performance that leads the Warriors to the title and that’s all anyone would remember.
That’s how it goes when you win. James knows that all too well. Curry is getting a glimpse of what it’s like to be James, but on a much smaller scale.
James is always scrutinized despite leading his team to six consecutive Finals, and seven overall. But James is chastised for having only two rings to show for it to this point.
A loss Thursday night meant that James’ teams were beaten in the Finals three straight years. Teams that fall behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals are 0-32 all-time.
James when facing elimination is usually a tough out. He had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in Game 5. His teams are 8-7 when facing elimination, with James averaging 32.4 points, 11 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
“I don’t know what happens in elimination games,” James said. “I understand the magnitude of it. But it doesn’t bother me too much. I know how much I put into the game. I know how true I am to the game. I know how much work I put in when no cameras around.”
Curry can say the same.
His masterful dribbling and mind-blowing shot-making ability come from countless hours of practice. Curry’s gotten many open looks against the Cavaliers, but they’re just not falling as frequently.
Curry led the league in scoring (30.1) in the regular season, set an NBA-record for three-pointers (402) and hit 45.4 percent from deep. In the Finals, Curry has averaged 22.2 points, 4.4 turnovers and is shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range.
“He hasn’t been at his best but he’s still been great for us, and he’s still doing so many things to help us win,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
The Cavaliers’ defense deserves credit but Curry hasn’t looked like the same player, hasn’t been moving the same way.
Curry says he’s fine, but there are reports and whispers that Curry has knee and shoulder issues, and could require surgery. He suffered ankle and knee injuries in the first round of the playoffs. He’s had huge moments since then, against Portland and Oklahoma City, but they have been few and far between in this series.
He shot 8-for-21 overall, and 5-for-15 from three-point range, when the Warriors, without Green, failed to knock out the Cavaliers in Game 5 Monday.
“I don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment and say Game 5 was a direct reflection of who we are as a team, and who I am as an individual, as a player, as a leader,” Curry said. “I was out there doing what I was trying to do to help our team win and it didn’t work.”
All it would take is one big game from Curry and a Warriors’ win, and all would be forgotten.