The Golden State Warriors finished off the regular season knocking down the Memphis Grizzlies 113-101 to secure the 8th-seed in the play-in tournament, with Stephen Curry (33) becoming the oldest player to win the scoring title since Michael Jordan in 1998.
No one in the NBA scored more points than Steph Curry this season, who secured his second scoring title in the first quarter with a one handed teardrop floater over Grizzlies’ seven-footer Jonas Valančiūnas.
BUCKETS.— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 16, 2021
With this basket, @StephenCurry30 has secured the 2020-21 @NBA scoring title 👏 pic.twitter.com/oenaw1PNb5
The afternoon matchup had all the makings of a playoff game, despite being the conclusion of the regular season, as both the Warriors and the Grizzlies entered the contest with identical records and the 8th spot in this year’s play-in tournament up for grabs.
The 4,418 fans on hand at Chase Center Sunday did everything they could to will their team to victory as well as bring that playoff-like atmosphere, despite still being below 25% capacity in the building.
Both teams came ready to play and the referees were allowing players on both sides to go out and compete at a high level without having to worry about ticky-tack fouls. With each team giving extra effort on offense and defense, neither the Warriors nor Grizzlies were able to establish a convincing run and pull away in the first half, with the Warriors up six after two quarters.
Steph, who’s scored 30 points 38 times this season, was quiet to start the contest, missing a handful of open looks. Yet the two-time MVP would come alive in the third quarter, splashing in 17 of his game-high 46 points and catalyzing a Warriors run that saw his team up 17 heading into the fourth.
However, the Grizzlies would not just roll over and yield, digging deep on the defensive end and clawing their way out of the deficit to even the score on a Dillon Brooks and-one with six and a half minutes remaining in regulation.
Unfortunately for Memphis, their only chance at stopping Steph Curry all day was Brooks, who fouled out on the next play, at which point Curry was able to take over, whether scoring himself or freeing up space for his teammates to make crucial plays in clutch moments.
“Brooks was all over Steph all game,” head coach Steve Kerr said afterwards. “He did a really good job just staying physical with him. That was a big play. All these games have swings in them. We knew we’d respond to their run and we did a good job of that.”
Two possessions later, with the Warriors down two and Curry drawing multiple defenders while driving through the key, Curry was able to connect with an open Jordan Poole who back-ironed in a three from the corner to regain possession of the advantage in the game, 98-97.
JP3⃣— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 16, 2021
📺 @NBCSAuthentic pic.twitter.com/gPTzWvX9BH
The next trip down the court, Andrew Wiggins would catch a missed Curry three-pointer out of mid-air before throwing it down with two hands and extending the Warrior lead to three.
WAYYYY UP pic.twitter.com/rYyBnMQFVX— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 16, 2021
With 95 seconds left to play, Curry stepped back from 30 feet and delivered the Grizzlies their finishing blow, pulling his jersey over his head in celebration as the crowd on hand chanted “M-V-P!”
Iconic moments.@StephenCurry30 x @BaronDavis pic.twitter.com/kRc58lbwuv— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 16, 2021
“Shout out to Baron Davis,” Curry said to reporters after the game, “I definitely channeled my Kirilenko moment.”
In a moment of gratitude after the game, Curry was thankful for what his teammates have brought to the season and how they have allowed him to do what he does.
“I appreciate everybody out there committing to how we play, and that’s really unlocked what I do best,” Steph said in his postgame Zoom.
“God is good,” he continued. “I’ve been blessed to be back healthy and be able to just play, night in, night out, at a high level. The work that goes into it, it pays off, and it’s something that I really really rely on, especially at this point in my career. As the years go on, that is the difference maker for me, and nobody really sees it on a day to day, but I’m really proud of what I put into it.
The ‘work’ Steph references is not just on the court, running through drills and getting up shots, but includes time spent in the gym and getting treatment, as well. Despite having just turned 33 in March, Curry is having arguably the best season of his career, leading the entire NBA in +/- and making a damn good case for taking home his third MVP award.
“I was saying earlier everything he means to the team and the way he conducts himself, that includes the way he takes care of his body,” Kerr explained. “He’s a machine, he’s one of those guys who’s in love with the process, he loves what he does.”
“He loves his life,” Kerr reiterated to the media. “He loves his family, he loves his routine, he loves the work, and that allows him to not only stay physically fit, but emotionally well prepared for every season, every game.”
However, it’s Steve Kerr’s philosophy that is finally paying off, with Poole, Wiggins, and the rest of the supporting cast stepping up and playing to their fullest potential. With teams so dialed in on everything Steph is doing, it almost makes him more lethal, as all of the attention paid to the Warriors superstar inevitably opens up open spaces and open shots for his teammates.
Here is Jordan Poole, not looking like a 21-year-old NBA sophomore who played in 11 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League this year:
too much sauce pic.twitter.com/jtZ4c45p6C— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 16, 2021
Kerr has gotten everything out of his secondary group of inexperienced youngsters, and his team is looking poised to further surpass expectations in the weeks to come, which is almost humorous when you remember a lot of people were coming for his job two months ago.
The Dubs have won eight of their last nine and 15 of their last 20 heading into the postseason, playing their best basketball and peaking at the perfect time.
“I’m proud of the way that we’ve led this charge and set a standard of what winning basketball is, but also the understanding that it looks totally different than it used to,” Steph told the media after the game. “Everybody’s stepped up, everybody has understood how they can impact the game on both ends of the floor, and everybody has created that edge of ‘you don’t wanna mess with us out there.”
“I love that,” Curry followed, “‘cause it was a little bleak in February and March. We didn’t know what type of team we were gonna be and we were really struggling to find our identity. We’re in a good spot right now, we obviously know there’s a lot of work to do, and no matter how the season goes I’m really proud of the way we’ve given ourselves a chance to make this season matter, and given ourselves a chance to play games that matter, and that’s big.”
Curry was a walking bucket all night, as he has been all season. Even LeBron James said in his postgame press conference last night that Steph has his vote for NBA MVP this campaign.
Though it might be safe to take that comment in jest, as the Warriors get set to face LeBron and the Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles Wednesday night at 7 p.m. PT, with the winner moving on to the postseason as the No. 7 seed against the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Top Image: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images