CLEVELAND — Friday night will answer a major question for all basketball fans: Can the Warriors sweep the Cavaliers in Game 4 and stake their claim to being a true NBA dynasty? If so, we will answer a minor question, too: Who is the 2018 NBA Finals most valuable player? Is it Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry?
Curry was good in Game 1 and mesmerizing in Game 2. Durant was a one-man whirlwind of scoring and rebounding and passing in Game 3. As of now, the race is too close to handicap.
It’s our latest reminder. We are witnessing two of basketball’s true superstars, and to see how they trade and share big moments on the court is a fascinating study.
It hasn’t always been a natural fit, of course. No one figured it would be. These Warriors were built around the geometry of Curry’s long-distance shooting. To take a transcendent talent like Durant and slot him into an existing structure was exciting, and challenging, from the start.
They didn’t mesh right away. For most of his first two months playing alongside Durant, Curry was uncharacteristically tentative, and not particularly productive. You could expect most MVP-caliber players to go overboard in asserting their dominance over a newcomer. Curry, who is both humble and fully aware of his public image, was guilty of the opposite.
“Basketball doesn’t get figured out in three months, four months,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said Thursday before the Warriors practiced at Quicken Loans Arena. “Even a year or two, it takes. So I was always confident, as long as they had the right mind and right approach, and they came with no ego, that we’d figure it out. And they did it.”
But not before things hit rock bottom on Christmas Day, 2016. In a one-point loss at Cleveland — always Cleveland — Curry took just 11 shots and scored 15 points. Afterward, the team had what Curry calls “a come-to-Jesus” meeting that helped to unshackle the game’s greatest shooter. The two stars built rapport over the rest of that season, which culminated in a 16-1 postseason run during which the Warriors looked unbeatable.
“This year has been a lot more comfortable, a lot more — just understood how we feel out the game and what plays to call,” Curry said Thursday. “Understand we all can be aggressive and we’re not going to step on anybody’s toes. We all understand that we’ll have an opportunity to impact the game, whether it’s for stretches of the game or a play here, a play there.”
He added: “It’s been fun to be on that journey and kind of learn a new system within an old system pretty quickly these last two years.”
Durant and Curry have figured out their court cohabitation. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to work every night.
During the Western Conference final series, the Warriors bogged down. The Houston Rockets’ able defense disrupted their movement and their rhythm, and frequently the result was Kevin Durant dribbling face-up on a defender while his teammates, including Curry, stood and watched. Durant missed a lot of shots, and the Rockets extended the Warriors to seven grueling games.
People howled that Durant was hogging the ball. That the beautiful, record-breaking offensive system we had come to admire was being subverted by isolation ball.