Steph offers reminder of unique greatness during return to playoffs


Books have been written about Steph Curry's basketball greatness. That's to be expected when talking about the best shooter of all time and one of the 10 to 12 best players to ever dribble a basketball.

From a God-like shooting stroke to basketball savant IQ to everyman attitude, the Warriors star is, in many respects, a one-of-one. Yet Curry, for much of his rise and stay at the top of the basketball galaxy, has been judged differently than other basketball immortals.

Three titles and five straight trips to the NBA Finals weren't enough. The championships were discounted and unfair disclaimers put on his achievements. Once the Warriors' dynasty crumbled, critics were eager to pile on Curry, claiming his inability to win without Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and any semblance of a competitive roster was proof of fraud.

Curry and the Warriors were left for dead. A volcanic run at the end of the 2020-21 season was a reminder that the shadows aren't as long as many believed. Now back in the playoffs, Curry is offering a reminder of what makes him such a special basketball legend.

"Steph is incredibly unselfish," Thompson said Thursday after Curry scored 27 points in the Warriors' Game 3 win over the Nuggets. "He might be the most humble superstar there ever was. That's what makes him so great. I don't think he's very comfortable boasting about his success, but he has put in so much work to get to where he is, and that has a trickle-down effect to all of us."

Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a bone bruise and sprained ligament in his left foot. He returned for Game 1 against the Nuggets but came off the bench on a minutes restriction.

Seeing a still-in-his-prime all-time great agree to come off the bench in his return to the playoffs is a rare sight. Yes, Kobe, LeBron and the like would do anything to win, but the thought of them coming off the bench paints a picture that's hard to envision.

For Curry, he didn't bat an eye at the thought of being a temporary Sixth Man. What the Warriors need, he provides.

"Steph is Steph," coach Steve Kerr said Monday night after the Warriors' 20-point Game 2 win. "You don't need to sell him on anything. He's very unique. He's incredibly humble and incredibly arrogant on the floor. Humble off the floor, arrogant on the floor. It's a great combination.

"Anything that is going to help the team, he's all for. We always collaborate. We talk about everything. It's just very matter of fact with Steph. There's never any ego that gets in the way."

But you can't highlight Curry's unselfish nature without blending it with the on-court killer instinct and ethereal marksmanship and scoring ability.

After a rusty Game 1, Curry held Game 2 in the palm of his hand, torching the Nuggets for 34 points in 22 minutes. It was an incredible display of everything that makes Curry the greatest offensive force in basketball.

"I mean, Steph made me look stupid tonight," Thompson told "Warriors Postgame Live" after Game 2. "He's on a minutes restriction and he went out there and got 34 points. That's what I was trying to do.

"But he also didn't have a couple of years off. That's just Steph being Steph."

The reminders of Curry's impact and preeminence have been seen and felt across the playoffs, from the Warriors' domination of the Nuggets to Kevin Durant's frustrations trying to solve the Celtics' vaunted defense.

Even Jordan Poole's meteoric rise has drawn comparisons to Curry. While Poole moves off-ball in a similar way and has been unconscious from downtown, what Curry does and the attention he brings remains unequaled.

"Jordan has been incredible," Green said Thursday after Game 3. "But Steph, that's fear that's been earned over the course of years and years and years of dragging people. Like you said, Jordan has been absolutely incredible. But the gravity that Steph pulls, the attention that he gets from a defense, that's always going to be different."

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Curry's minutes will continue to tick up and he'll return to his spot in the starting lineup. That's not something the two-time MVP is concerned about. He's comfortable with his standing in the game and his legacy.

The climb from rock bottom back to the playoffs was the tough part for Curry and the Warriors. Their grand re-entrance to the playoff stage has been flawless to this point.

They know bigger challenges await them on their road to reignite a dynasty many believed had been stamped out.

But the Warriors knew that wasn't the case. They were a recuperating and re-energizing behemoth, one not yet buried. One led by a superstar the likes of which we are unlikely to see again.

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