Steph Curry

Let's chill on comparing Luka and Kyrie to Steph and Klay, for now

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The box before the first box has been handled. Behind the dominant duo of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, the No. 5-seeded Dallas Mavericks punched their ticket to the 2024 NBA Finals after beating the No. 3-seed Minnesota Timberwolves in five games, ending the Western Conference Finals with a 21-point blowout win Thursday night on the road. 

What was supposed to be a stifling Timberwolves defense gave fans wishing for a refund shortly after tip-off. Dončić came into Game 5 averaging an all-time NBA playoffs best 34.2 points following a loss. He already was up to 20 after the first quarter, one more point than the Timberwolves’ 19. Irving then scored 15 in the second. 

By halftime, Dončić and Irving had scored 44 points on 63 percent shooting. 

Minnesota made 35 percent of its first-half shots, scoring a total of 40 points. 

When it was all said and done on the Mavs’ beatdown over the Wolves, Dončić and Irving had produced nearly identical stat lines. Each scored 36 points and had five assists. Dončić did his scoring on 14-of-22 shooting and went 6 of 10 from three, while Irving was 14 of 27 from the field and 4 of 10 on 3-pointers. Dončić also inhaled a team-high 10 rebounds. 

The Timberwolves’ top-scoring duo of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns each scored 28 points. But both put up 16 of their points in the second half when the Wolves already faced a 29-point halftime deficit, and Towns only made one of his six 3-point attempts as the self-proclaimed greatest big man shooter of all time.

Luka and Kyrie are a special pairing in the backcourt. Historically special. So here’s when I say it: Let’s chill on comparing them to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. 

Former NBA head coach and current TNT color commentator Stan Van Gundy called the Dončić-Irving couple "arguably the best offensive backcourt in the history of the NBA,” before Game 1 of the conference finals. Van Gundy then doubled down after Game 3, saying "It's the most talented offensive backcourt in the history of the NBA," following a performance where Dončić and Irving dropped 33 points apiece to take a 3-0 series lead. 

Hall of Famer, all-time great shooter and fellow analyst Reggie Miller gave a shocked “Whoa!” in response to Van Gundy’s take before Game 1. But as the highlights played Thursday night on TNT with the Mavs moving on to the Finals, the Indiana Pacers legend seemingly agreed with his co-worker. 

Living in the moment is great. Recency bias is another thing.

Countless people inside and outside the league questioned if Irving could work alongside Dončić upon his arrival from the Brooklyn Nets in February 2023. Initially, the experiment didn’t work and the Mavs failed to even make the play-in tournament last year. Really, injuries got in the way of Dallas’ grand idea ever actually getting off the ground.

They escaped dealing with the play-in tournament this year and beat the No. 4-seed Los Angeles Clippers in six games. Kawhi Leonard played twice all series for the Clippers, scoring a total of 24 points. The Mavs then took down the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in six games. The Thunder were great all season, but their starting five’s average age isn’t even 24. 

Who’s SGA’s No. 2? A rookie in Chet Holmgren? Jalen Williams is an ascending star, even still he just turned 23 in mid-April during his second pro season. 

We know what Dončić, Irving and the Mavs did to Edwards, Towns and the Mavs. We also know that Edwards, 22, feels like the biggest player on a team whose frontcourt combines to break 14 feet tall, and that the first three games of the series were decided by an average of four points.

None of this is to take away from what Dončić and Irving have done these playoffs. Hater is a label one should always hope to evade. What the oddity of the Warriors missing the playoffs also has allowed us to do is to reflect. 

To appreciate the ridiculousness of making five straight Finals. To win three of those five, knowing they could have won all five, and coming back three years later and winning again together. It’s a run Curry and Thompson did as Steve Kerr’s starting backcourt through it all, and a run that won’t be seen again. 

Curry and Thompson are two years apart. Thompson was drafted by the Warriors two years after Curry, and the two upset the Denver Nuggets in the first round during their second season together. They lost together for the first time in the playoffs the next round in their age-24 and age-22 seasons, and won their first of four titles a few months after Curry had turned 27 and Thompson 25. 

They were 34 and 32 years old when they won their most recent ring as teammates, the same season Thompson returned from two leg injuries tearing away two years of his prime.

This will be Dončić's first trip to the Finals, and Irving’s fourth. Dončić is only 25, yet already in his sixth NBA season and turned pro for Real Madrid at 16. Irving, 32, is in his 13th NBA season playing for his fourth franchise. Their first Finals experience will be against a historic Boston Celtics team, led by the tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Curry and Thompson beat Tatum, Brown and Boston in six games two years ago to again be crowned champs. 

Van Gundy’s argument solely being based on offense gives his words more credence. Dončić is a 6-foot-7 bowling ball in ballet shoes that can bully you or hit a triple in your eyes and let you know all about it. Irving’s wizardry makes the ball his personal yo-yo, his jelly-dripping layup package is unmatched and he did hit one of the greatest shots in basketball history that still makes Dubs Nation’s eyes bleed. 

Curry continuously proves he’s more than a shooter, his handles can be compared to the elites to ever dribble and added strength over the years has made him a dangerous finisher at the basket. Don’t let one down year deceive you. Thompson is among the most savage flamethrowers ever. His heaters know no bounds. 

The downright perfect shot Thompson has displayed for more than a decade should be played on loop by all coaches to young players. His scoring is more singular than Curry, Dončić or Irving. Remember when he scored 60 points on 11 dribbles? Then you better remember the springs this Splash Brother owned, slamming on your head after a flurry of threes. 

Steph and Klay have slain the giants, over and over and over again. Teams were built to try to beat them. They didn’t. The bigger the target grew, the greater their powers together became, melting nets and spraying celebratory champagne.

Marvel at Luka and Kyrie. Live in the moment. Never forget history, the past can’t be erased.

Let’s enjoy their introduction to the main stage as teammates, though understand the debate is better served for delusional patrons at Dallas bars, and doesn’t start until winning at least four more games.

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