BOSTON — The Steph Curry slander after Game 3 of the NBA Finals bordered on blasphemy.
Even though the Golden State star had 31 points in a Boston victory, he had just two points in the fourth quarter, and in certain corners of the NBA ecosystem, that was grounds for unnecessary criticism.
Not that Curry needed to answer any criticism, but he showed in Game 4 why he is not only the greatest shooter in NBA history but one of the greatest players of all-time.
Curry had a game-high 43 points — the second-highest Finals output of his career — and 10 rebounds, sending the Warriors to a 107-97 victory and tying the Finals at 2-2.
He is just one of five guards to have at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Finals game, joining Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade. He is just the second point guard to do it.
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LeBron James, Jordan and now Curry are the only players 34 or older to have at least 40 points in a Finals game.
Oh, and this performance came after he injured his left foot late in Game 3, an injury that required almost around-the-clock attention to get him ready for Game 4.
The superlatives rolled in from all directions, starting with coach Steve Kerr.
“Just stunning,” Kerr said. “The physicality out there is pretty dramatic. Boston’s got, obviously, the best defense in the league. Huge and powerful at every position, and for Steph to take kind of pressure all game long and still be able to defend at the other end when they are coming at him shows you, I think this is the strongest physically he’s ever been in his career, and it’s allowing him to do what he’s doing.”
Draymond Green has had a court-side view of so many of these classic Curry performances.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Put us on his back. Willed us to win. Much-needed win. Game we had to have. Came out and showed why he’s one of the best players to ever play this game and why this organization has been able to ride him to so much success. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Klay Thompson, in his understated delivery, called it Curry’s No. 1 all-time Finals performance.
“The heart on that man,” Thompson said, “is incredible.”
Curry was subdued in his postgame press conference. He was not during the game, giving Boston fans a mouthful after a few important buckets.
“A lot of it is how hostile the environment was, the fans chanting and doing all their shenanigans and all that, Boston knowing how big of a game it is for them,” Curry said. “If they get the win, they take control of series.”
Curry made sure it wasn’t 3-1 Boston. He had 12 points in the first quarter, seven in the second, 14 in the third and 10 in the fourth. His consecutive baskets from him, including a 3 with 1:42 left in the game, gave the Warriors a 100-94 lead.
“It means everything knowing the sense of urgency we had to have to win on the road and keep some life in the series, get home-court advantage back and try to create some momentum our way,” Curry said.
He made 14-of-26 shots, 7-of-14 on 3s, 8-of-9 from the free throw line, and for the series, he is averaging 34.3 points and shooting 50% from the field and 49% on 3s . He is the first player to make at least five 3s in four consecutive Finals games and his 25 3s in the series is the most in a four-game span in Finals history.
Boston’s philosophy is to make the game difficult for Curry on both ends. The Celtics defend him with bigger and more physical players and try to pick on him defensively with those same players. Sometimes, he looks worn down, and sometimes, he needs more offensive help.
But Curry is relentless.
“Those are the times where you can be a little bit more aggressive, try to, let’s say, force the issue a little bit,” Curry said. “That doesn’t always mean shoot, but it means just attacking, being aggressive and finding lanes, doing it over and over and over again.”
The Warriors still need to win two more games to win the title, and this is a tight series, going at least six games. Neither team has won consecutive games in this series, and for the Warriors to win the title, they need to do that.
But Curry is two victories from his first Finals MVP.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.