Down 2-1, with the Boston crowd howling and baying, Stephen Curry painted his Mona Lisa.
Like Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, it was comprised of soft strokes of the finest details and, in the end, was beautiful.
Curry’s legacy as one of the sport’s greats has long been cemented, but he’s never been one to be caught standing still.
Despite everything stacked against him in Game 4 of the NBA Finals – a foot injury, his teammates struggling and the type of pressure us mere mortals can’t even comprehend – Curry produced arguably one of the best games of his career (and there are many to pick from), torching the Boston Celtics for 43 points and leveling the Finals in the process.
Even after a career of multiple titles, multiple Most Valuable Awards and multiple All-NBA First teams, the star point guard is still showing why he’s a transcendent figure in the sport.
“He wasn’t letting us lose. That’s all it boils down to. I could tell in his demeanor,” Curry’s longtime Warriors teammate, Draymond Green, said after the Game 4 victory.
On Thursday, the Warriors clinched the 2022 NBA title with victory over the Celtics in Game 6 of the Finals, securing Curry yet another ring and his legacy as an all-time great.
The title is his fourth in eight seasons but is arguably the 34-year-old’s most impressive and – with his first Finals MVP award – cements his legacy as one of the 10 best players in league history among a respected company.
“What are they gonna say now?” Curry told Andscape’s Marc Spears after the game. “(You) hear all the talk about you as a player and us as a team, nobody outside of the Bay Area thought we would be here last October when the season started. Me as a player, obviously this Finals MVP stuff and all that, knew (we were) good enough to win three championships before.
“But to have the opportunity to go for a fourth (championship), and to accomplish this goal, too, God is great,” Curry said about the Bill Russell trophy. “Just happy I got to do it.”
Since joining the league in 2009, Curry has almost single-handedly changed the way basketball is played. Teams are now prioritizing their three-point shooting, while prospective NBA players arrive in the draft with well formed long-range shooting.
But for Curry, the master of the craft, he showed against the Celtics – the league’s No. 2 defense – why he is still the paragon for the three-point, flowing offense that the Warriors and head coach Steve Kerr have become so famous for.
Unlike in other heliocentric offenses – Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, for example – Curry doesn’t have the ball in his hands every possession, but don’t be fooled, the Dubs’ offense all works because of Curry.
He is the Sun in the Warriors’ solar system offense. His teammates revolve around his offensive threat, opening spaces even though he may not even have the ball and yet, even with all defenses slated towards him, such is his threat, Curry still finds ways to score.
Although his NBA record run of 233 games with at least one three-pointer came to an end in Game 5, just his presence on the court is enough to terrify defenders.
Not content with remaining in one position on the floor, Curry can often been spotted sprinting around without the ball attempting to relocate to a spot where he can get a shot off. And this motion, and the accurate passing of Green, has brought about not only huge successes for the Warriors, but it has transformed the league.
For the Warriors’ core – Curry, Green, Klay Thompson and head coach Steve Kerr – it’s their fourth title and, arguably, their most impressive.
November 19, 2020, brought the news Warriors fans didn’t want to hear.
Thompson, the second half of the prolific “Splash Brothers,” had torn his Achilles tendon, ending his 2020-21 season. “I do not want to be writing this. My soul is in Brooklyn taking a pre-game nap,” Thompson wrote on his Instagram.
It would be the second season in a row that the star shooting guard would be missing, having torn his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals.
In the two seasons that he missed, the Warriors went 54-83, including missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Between injuries to Curry and Green and the passing sands of time, it looked like the unthinkable might be happening: the Warriors dynasty could be coming to a screeching halt.
However, like the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs sides that Kerr played for, the Warriors rebuilt.
Through some savvy transactions and shrewd draft picks, the previously bare-looking core was suddenly surrounded by a heap of talented and skilled energetic players.
With the return of Thompson and the accession of some of the youngsters, such as Jordan Poole, the team has made an improbable return to the Finals, leaving a cast of All-Stars in their wake.
But, without the offensive magnetism Curry provides, maybe it would never have happened.
For someone who has transformed the NBA so comprehensively, the past two months have been a clinic for Curry.
He averaged over 27 points and approximately five rebounds and six assists while consistently being the focus of the league’s most stout defenses.
And although he’s certainly one of the league’s greatest players, given the uniqueness and success of his style of play, this 2021-22 season has been the icing on his future Hall of Fame career.
While he’s still a way off the league record for championship rings – Bill Russell has a remarkable 11 from the legendary Boston Celtics team of the 1950s and 1960s – he has now drawn level with such luminaries as LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Robert Parish on four titles.
The argument about who is in the top 10 NBA players of all time has gone on for years and will go on for many more.
But, such was his impact in the playoffs and the season as a whole, Curry should be placed amongst those elite names.
“Expanding the Mount Rushmore … is the only conversation that should be going around about Stephen Wardell Curry. Sincerely Dwyane Wade,” the three-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat wrote on Instagram.
San Antonio Spurs All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray also praised Curry after Thursday’s victory. “We Won’t Never See Anything Like Curry EVER Again”. Appreciate His GREATNESS Why We Can!!! #Top10EVER,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite having an illustrious career before this season, with three championship titles and two league MVP awards to his name, this year’s triumph might be his crowning jewel.
Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas said that Curry’s Finals MVP “helps” his legacy.
As (Boston’s) Cedric Maxwell said to me the other night, he goes: ‘There’s 32 NBA Finals (MVPs). I’m one of them,” Thomas told ESPN.
“I’m one of them, too. At the end, it does matter. It helps. Steph’s legacy is already cemented, in terms of what he’s done for the game, how he’s improved the game, and what he’s done making all the kids want to play the game (the way he does). He’s pushed the game forward.”
Curry joined some esteemed company with his Thursday night haul. Before Game 6, only five players had four rings, multiple league MVP awards and a finals MVP: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan.
Now, there are six players with Curry.
Jordan and James are, by consensus, the two best players in NBA history. But could Curry be No. 3? Is Curry the league’s greatest ever point guard?
They are not crazy suggestions to make – and they’re conversations that will begin to be had.