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Why Steph was obvious choice for NBA Clutch Player of the Year award

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Still echoing in my mind is the breathless praise uttered a few years ago by a Hall of Famer for whom an NBA award has since been named:

"I’ve seen a lot of great players in the NBA, but I’ve never, ever seen one who could shoot like that. He’s incredible. The best part about it is that he might not look like much but he’s not afraid of anything. He’s confident, and he should be."

Those were the words I recall from a casual conversation with Jerry West, the legend, the logo, and, in 2016, an executive board member with the Warriors moonlighting as an adviser to the front office.

West was talking about Stephen Curry, who was in the middle of a season after which he claimed the first unanimous NBA Most Valuable Player award.

In the eight years since, Curry has collected many more awards, the latest coming Thursday when he was named the league’s Clutch Player of the Year.

Curry beat out fellow finalists DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The award, instituted last season, is named after West, who now serves the Los Angeles Clippers in a role much like that which he held with the Warriors. He was known as “Mr. Clutch” during a 14-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He retired in 1974.

That description applied to Curry this season with the Warriors.

The Warriors led the NBA with 48 “clutch” games – within five points inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime – and Curry was their unquestioned ace. They were 23-20 in such games with him in the lineup, 1-4 when he was not.

More pointedly, Curry led the league in clutch points with 189, field goals with 59 and 3-pointers with 32. He shot 49.6 percent from the field in the clutch, including 45.7 percent beyond the arc, and wrapped the season having shot 95.1 percent from the line in 43 games.

For the sake of comparison, Gilgeous-Alexander’s shooting-percentage splits were 58.1/35.7/89.7 in 34 games and DeRozan’s splits were 48.7/46.7/87.8.

Curry’s 1.32 points per clutch minute dwarfed the production from the rest of the field. DeRozan finished with .949 points per clutch minute and Gilgeous-Alexander was at 1.04.

The impressive resumé submitted by Curry, along with the award, might not be enough to silence, once and for all, those who fight the facts that convey he is a reliable clutch performer.

Might this do the trick: Curry’s 10 game-winning shots – within five seconds of the fourth-quarter or overtime buzzer – over the last 10 years are tops in the NBA.

Or maybe the video from Curry’s game-winner against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 10 at Chase Center. Barely had the ball reached his hand before he spun and launched a 3-ball jumper over the outstretched arm of Devin Booker. ABC/ESPN announcer Mike Breen gave it a robust “BANG!”

Or check out the box score from Golden State’s 132-126 overtime win over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 19. Curry scored 20 points – including 4-of-5 from deep – in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and OT to complete the comeback.

Voters don’t always get it right. The announcement Wednesday that Minnesota Timberwolves forward Naz Reid edged Sacramento Kings guard Malik Monk in the NBA Sixth Man of the Year voting was a classic example of voters getting it wrong.

The Timberwolves had a much better season than the Kings, but there is no world in which Minnesota would miss Reid as much as Sacramento would miss Monk.

One day later, with Curry, the voters got it right. Jerry West would agree.

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