OAKLAND, CALIF.—More than an hour prior to the Golden State Warriors’ Game 4 showdown against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, the darling of this NBA postseason sat in a mostly deserted Warriors home locker room.
No cameras. No recorders. Just a superstar in the making all by himself. For Stephen Curry, this won’t happen much longer.
“You’re getting an awful lot of recognition these days,” I told him.
He lifted a slight smile, unassuming in this moment just as he is on the court.
“Yeah, you know how all that changes,” Curry said.
He’s right. It is changing. The attention is building and the crowds will begin to encircle his locker before long.
Curry took another step into the spotlight of superstardom in the Warriors’ 115-101 Game 4 victory against the Nuggets, flashing his flair for the moment with a 31-point performance that included 6-of-11 shooting on three-pointers.
He scored 22 of those points and hit five of his three-pointers in the third quarter, when the Warriors decidedly put the Nuggets on their heels and ultimately into a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
Curry lit up the crowd with each arching shot. He sent the emphatic clamor of Oracle Arena into unhinged euphoria with his celebrations. At one point in that third quarter, after an and-1 layup, he sprinted into an exultant stance in the corner baseline and pounded his hands together toward the Warriors crowd.
When he catches fire, he loses his bashful demeanor as an animated, tongue-wagging personality is revealed.
Curry’s 18 three-pointers through his first four playoff games is historic. As much as Denver tried to contain him Sunday with full-court shadows and face-guarding, Curry found ways to sneak into enough open space to connect from anywhere on the floor.
Now, the basketball nation is beginning to take notice of Golden State’s sensational talent.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson joked about Curry’s recent attention: “Those guys are just coming to the hospital; the baby has been born already.”
Curry continues to showcase his talents on the grand stage of the NBA playoffs. Through four games, the fourth-year player is averaging 27.3 points, 4.5 three-pointers and 10 assists per game.
After not being selected as an All-Star reserve, Curry’s game raised to a higher level with averages of 26 points and 7.4 assists.
But as much as the Bay Area’s golden boy continues to be glorified for lighting it up, he remains unwavering in his humbleness. He’s more likely to recognize his teammates, or credit the intricacies of the offense or a certain play call, than take credit for his heroics.
When asked about his sweet shooting after Game 4, Curry spoke his modest language: “I was just able to get good looks. Like Andrew [Bogut] said, we were setting great screens, finding openings in the pick-and-roll.”
The sound bites aren’t always spectacular; he’ll never say a controversial word. But the humility of Curry, and that he’s undersized for NBA standards at 6’3” and 185 pounds, doesn’t equate to timidity.
Curry has an edge. He can get feisty on the floor. He’ll jaw at opponents, and he’ll mix it up inside.
Just ask Roy Hibbert.
Of course, the Golden State-sized elephant is Curry’s injury history. His vulnerable right ankle has received two surgeries, and it’s too often a worry.
In Game 2 in Denver, Curry turned his left ankle, not his surgically repaired right one. He was listed as questionable before his 29-point performance in Game 3.
Curry told me before Sunday’s game it had been a year-and-a-half since he sprained his left ankle, and the pain was still with him headed into Game 4.
The ankle pain was enough to take a pain-killing injection prior to the game, something he said took more than a half to kick in. Warriors coach Mark Jackson said he had been thinking about taking him out.
“I did have a talk with him,” Jackson said. “I actually took him out in the first half and was considering shutting him down, and I told him that. It was almost like a boxer that knew he was on the ropes because it was just a matter of time.”
Thank goodness he didn’t, as it would have taken away a very memorable third quarter.
“I told him, I didn’t need him to be a hero,” then Jackson laughed. “Talk about smart coaching.”
Jackson often uses the name “Reggie Miller” to compare what Curry is doing or what he’s capable of doing. It isn’t a careless connection. Curry set an NBA regular-season record this season with 272 three-pointers.
Fans of the game embrace guys who launch and connect from anywhere. Curry is congenial and flashes an on-court personality that supports his ability to become one of the game’s most popular players.
Most important, though, he’s no longer losing. Golden State’s playoff run is propelling him onto an adoring national stage.
Those moments alone at his locker room will soon vanish, just as they do for all NBA superstars.