Steph Curry welcoming Chris Paul to the Warriors on Threads with three pictures of the two future Hall of Fame point guards Thursday night is a sentence that represents a whole new reality, in a handful of ways.
Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder once were the Warriors' biggest threats out West, but aside from the 2016 conference finals where Golden State overcame a three-games-to-one deficit the season before Durant made the Bay Area his home, he never had a real rivalry with the Warriors. Paul is different. There’s history there, and lots of it.
Durant’s arrival made the Warriors the Super Villains of the NBA. He himself wasn’t a villain, really in anybody’s eyes, until his three seasons in a Warriors jersey.
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Paul long has been the Warriors’ own personal villain, making the trade that sent him to the Dubs from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Jordan Poole the latest move in league history to be marred by its bizarreness.
Such a move would be seen as sin even in fantasy land not too long ago. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green always will be connected to Curry, in their successes and in how Warriors fans protect the two. Curry stands on a mantle of his own, though, and the fandom frothed at the chance of Curry passing Paul in real time and in the history of the game.
There might not even be a Steph Curry without a Chris Paul.
Both grew up as undersized North Carolina prospects, Paul serving as an example of what Curry could become. The Warriors superstar still remembers first seeing his counterpart on the AAU circuit 20 years ago. Paul went home his first few offseasons, and Curry was one of the many players he groomed and guided. But both are extremely competitive and show that side of their personality in different ways.
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When Curry began to ascend and prove he’s more than a baby-faced sniper from long range, Paul was in his seventh straight All-Star season the year Curry was named to his first in 2014. That also was the first time the two squared off in the NBA playoffs, and the last time Paul got the best of Curry on the big stage.
The young Warriors were in their second straight trip to the postseason, but Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers were supposed to be the next big thing. They had won a franchise-record 57 regular-season games, yet needed seven games to stave off Curry and the Warriors in the first round. A 26-year-old Curry scored 33 points, dished nine assists and grabbed five rebounds in a Game 7 loss. He averaged 23.0 points, 8.4 assists and shot 38.6 percent on 3-pointers for the series.
It wasn’t Curry's time. But everything was about to change.
The two didn’t square off again in the playoffs for another four years, and Paul needed another team and another co-star to do so. He changed the trajectory of the Clippers, and still, they never could get over the hump and consistently fell short. The 2018 Western Conference finals were Paul’s best chance at taking down Curry and the Warriors, as well as the biggest “What If” of his career.
Up three games to two, Paul strained his hamstring in the final minute of the Houston Rockets' Game 5 win and was forced to watch Game 6 and Game 7 from the sidelines. Curry, Kevin Durant and Co. were crowned Western Conference champs again and swept the Cleveland Cavaliers for an NBA title Paul might still feel should have been his.
Curry and Paul are 9-9 against each other in the playoffs, but Curry has two series wins to Paul’s one. Curry is a four-time NBA champion, something the Point God continues searching for as he now joins forces with his fellow North Carolina native.
“It’s going to be different with us on the same side,” Curry said Thursday night on Instagram. “Let’s get it!”
We’ll always have Curry turning Paul’s ankles to rubber bands, bending and stretching every which way in one of the filthiest dribbling sessions we’ve seen from the flamethrower. We’ll always have Paul kicking Curry off the court ahead of Game 6 in the 2019 conference semifinals, only for Curry to score all 33 of his points in the second half to send Paul home for the second straight season. We’ll always have Paul and Steve Kerr, his new coach, sharing a fake laugh, just like we’ll always have Curry reminding Paul “it’s not 2014 no more” the last time they played each other in March.
Every second Paul spends as Curry’s backup will be fascinating to watch. So will the moments the two share the floor, celebrate one another and do everything in their power to accomplish something Curry has four times, yet is the only thing missing from Paul’s long scroll of accolades. The Steph Better stans aren’t going anywhere; they’re simply brushing a plate of Chris Paul beef to the side, at least for one season.
Fill up your cup and slowly pour out your drink of choice. Real rivalries, real pests are hard to come by in today’s sports landscape. What Paul gave Warriors players, coaches, fans and front office members was real emotions. None can be manufactured, and all those moments forever will be remembered.