Steph Curry wants everyone to know that he’s not mad about Kevin Durant about his teammate’s shoe comments. Back in August, Kevin Durant took a swipe at Curry’s shoe sponsor, Under Armour, saying that nobody wants to wear Under Armour.
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With Curry being the face of Under Armour basketball (and finally getting a decent-looking shoe), the two-time MVP initially took exception to what Durant said. But now, they’re all good. After the Warriors’ preseason game in China, Curry posted an Instagram photo with Durant. The sneaker war is on!
Indeed, by season’s end, the seesaw act had worked to the tune of 67 wins. And after Durant’s return to the lineup in early April, the two combined for 119 points on 37-of-66 shooting in two games together in their first-round series sweep of the Trail Blazers. Still, two games does not a championship run make. In fact, it takes two months. Few have learned that lesson quite like Curry. One month he was touted as the “unanimous MVP.” The next, after a disappointing loss in the Finals, “unanimous MVP” became a sardonic epithet, a cudgel against a guy who’d rushed back from injury and into his own basketball Waterloo. He knows all too well that a season of never-ending praise can be upended in days. “I know if I’m not playing well,” he says. “And I can’t say that anybody’s right in the way that they talk about my year.”
Later, with 30 seconds left in the half, Steph makes the return official when he eagerly sprints into and launches a 3-pointer with his heel on the half-court logo. Swish. Steph hunches over and duck-walks away from his creation. As one does. He’ll finish with six 3s in only three quarters of play. “I think Steph catered to the whole theme of pleasing,” Bruce Fraser, the Warriors-appointed shooting coach, would later say. “He wanted to please. He catered to the whole, took less for himself. The irony in this season so far is that we had to learn how to play with KD, had to learn how to play without him. And both of those were challenges.”
Fissures had been forming. Genial Steph was noticeably frustrated with the state of affairs, perhaps more so than he’d ever been in the Kerr era. He played poorly overall on Christmas — 15 points on 36 percent shooting — and had barely touched the ball down the stretch. In the final four minutes, Curry took as many shots as Cavs role player Richard Jefferson (one). Though it was a regular-season game, Kerr elected to sub Curry out on the last defensive possession for the taller and longer Shaun Livingston. It was an understandable move to thwart a LeBron James pick-and-roll aimed directly at Curry, but it amplified the embarrassment. Steph’s head was in his hands as Kyrie Irving hit the game winner over Thompson.
Curry’s reputation was taking a beating, and the Warriors didn’t appear substantially more assured of a title than they would’ve been with last season’s squad. The wooing of Durant wasn’t like Miami’s super-team formation, which arose out of LeBron and Dwyane Wade’s deep friendship. Curry and Durant got along just fine, but Curry simply went along with the pursuit of KD — it wasn’t something he concocted. He’d been a good soldier by accepting what was right for the franchise, by abruptly leaving his basketball camp to fly to the Hamptons. For this, his reward had been a diminished reputation, offensive marginalization and little outward, organizational praise for the sacrifice.
A few days after Christmas, Curry spoke up about the state of affairs. “I definitely want to be in more pick-and-roll situations,” he said at Golden State’s practice facility when asked whether the ball was in his hands enough this season. “Whether I’m getting shots or whether we’re manufacturing ball movement, that’s a strength of ours, regardless of how teams play us.”
On the season, he has seen 19.6 screens per game; 25 starting point guards have seen more. The team has scored only 1.09 points per play, which is 20th in the league. Hence, Curry’s public and private frustration. But since that Christmas Day loss, the story has changed. Per SportVU data, the Warriors have bumped up the screens that the reigning MVP sees to 23.4 per game, and the team’s scoring average has ballooned to 1.16 points per play, which would rank fourth best over a full season. Curry has nearly doubled his scoring average out of the pick-and-roll, from 4.9 through Christmas Day to 8.4 since.
“I look at the numbers,” Kerr said of the distribution of shots between stars. “We obviously play a little different than most teams. We’ve been last in the NBA in pick-and-roll plays three years in a row. We do a lot of stuff off the ball. So obviously with KD’s arrival, the dynamics changed a little bit. So, Steph has the ball a little less this year. So does KD. Sometimes I’ll just, if I think Steph needs the ball more, I’ll call more plays for him. But for the most part, it kind of happens organically.”
Sam Amick: On Curry front, days off are tough to come by & Warriors host OKC tomorrow, at Houston Friday. More than happy to pass this ball to Durant.. pic.twitter.com/M4gAH7rXvD
“I think we had chemistry since the beginning of the season, since training camp,” Durant said of Curry. “I’ve been watching him a long time. He’s been watching me. We know how we play, where he wants the ball and where I want the ball. It’s a matter of experience and just getting out there and playing. But when you’re familiar with someone’s game and you respect someone’s game, it makes it easy to play with them.”
“Not at all,” Durant told The Vertical. “You can ask other guys, but I feel like I’m easy to get along with. I feel like I’m easy to play with. I don’t demand much. I feel like I’ve got a high basketball IQ. I’m still adjusting and learning the system and learning what coach wants from me, but for the most part, I’m good at improvising. I’m good at filling in. I can go out there and try to get a basket every possession. Or I can go in a corner and wait for the ball to come to me and space the floor. I feel I can do different things on the court, from being a No. 1 guy to the No. 2 guy to whatever. Setting screens and fighting in the trenches, playing the dirty game, I feel I can do all of that. I think that’s what’s making it easy. I don’t feel like I’m a one-dimensional player.”
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October 17, 2017 | 10:28 am EDT Update
“Gotta take this one,” he said. When he stepped outside, the name on the screen gleamed back at him: Chris Paul. “I’m in,” Paul said. “What do you mean you’re in?” Harden asked. Harden and Paul were friends, and they had traded texts throughout the season. CP3, he knew, was examining his pending free agent options, and Harden was hopeful Houston was on Paul’s short list, but he was in the dark about where Paul was leaning. “I mean I’m in,” Paul repeated. “I want to come to Houston. I want to play with you.”
“We talked about it, but there was no answer to it,” D’Antoni says. “I wanted him to be MVP. I told him, ‘Let’s go for it.’ But having that and the majority of the offense in his hands was difficult.” The burden, Harden concedes, was too weighty. “It’s pretty tough to be depended on to make every single play,” he says. “It wears on you when you don’t have someone to relieve some of that for you, when you don’t have that guy who you can throw the ball to for three or four possessions in a row and say, ‘Go make a play.'”
“LeBron’s my man, but he didn’t know,” Paul says now. “I didn’t tell him initially because even though we’re so close, we’re also ultracompetitive.” Twenty minutes later, Paul finally revealed his secret. LeBron’s response? He ordered shots of Don Julio 1942 tequila and clinked glasses with his friend. “Be happy,” LeBron said.
While Stephen Curry has won two MVPs, he believes he may be entering his absolute prime. “I hope it is,” Curry told The Athletic. “You go through this NBA journey and every year you learn something else about yourself, about your team, about being an NBA player. Using all that experience to my advantage, the work you put in off the court in the summertime to get yourself ready. I don’t know exactly where the peak is, but I do think I’m the best version of myself to date.”
Game-worn jerseys from the four teams playing on the NBA’s opening night will be auctioned to raise money for hurricane recovery efforts. The NBA and Turner Sports, which will televise the Cleveland-Boston and Golden State-Houston doubleheader on TNT, will use the auction to benefit the One America Appeal. Besides the jerseys, the auction will include items such as game-worn sneakers and autographed items donated by Turner commentators.
With his 15th NBA campaign in store, LeBron James is not just looking ahead to another season in which he can “strive for greatness,” as he often puts it. This year, he’ll also set the mark for the longest-running continuous signature shoe line in league history (Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls career ended with his 14th Air Jordan shoe in Utah). “No one has ever reached number 15 before LeBron,” designer Jason Petrie said. “So it’s a big deal, and we want to make a celebration of technology, style and of LeBron’s game.”