If you’re wondering how tough Stephen Curry can be in the face of physical challenges from the Denver Nuggets, you’re asking the wrong question. The matter at hand for Curry, both in this first-round playoff series and for the duration of his time with the Golden State Warriors, is how Oakland can he be.
Those who played against Jason Kidd could tell you he’s deceptively strong. Brian Shaw might be the toughest of all: he has persevered with dignity after his parents and sister were killed in a car accident when he was 27.
Damian Lillard, the unanimous rookie of the year, is the most recent addition to the lineage. He led all rookies in points and assists, and even though he played more minutes than anyone in the league his scoring and shooting went up after the All-Star break, when the rookie wall should have kicked in.
“What makes us so tough is we learned on the playgrounds and fought all the time and grew up with that toughness,” Payton said in a text message. “Curry has the heart to do that. I don’t know how he grew up, but in this era he can be really good.”
Curry grew up in Charlotte. But he can be of Oakland. He can represent what it stands for. And just as Payton, Kidd, Shaw and Lillard each offer different takes on toughness, we’re starting to see Curry’s version.
The Nuggets decided that if they can’t block his shot, if his passing will penalize them for double-teams (he’s the leading assists man in the playoffs, with 9.6 per game), then the best way to slow him down is to get rough. They shoved and tripped him in Game 5, causing Mark Jackson to complain about the tactics, leading Curry to spend a couple of days defending himself against the notion that he’s soft.
He’d grown a little weary of the topic by the time I asked him his definition of basketball toughness, before the Warriors’ shootaround Thursday. He sighed and said: “I don’t know, man. I mean it’s….grit. Being able to deal with contact. Stepping up in big situations. Kind of living up to the moment, I guess. But there’s a lot of different definitions that people can throw out there. A lot of different ways that you can assess people’s toughness.”
Curry’s slender frame will never intimidate anybody when he walks on the court. That doesn’t mean he can’t demoralize opponents by dropping a barrage of three-pointers on them all night. He won’t deck people with forearms…but he can exact his revenge after a big shot…or even during a big shot.
Curry’s signature moment in this series came midway through the third quarter of Game 4, when he launched a three-pointer from the sideline near the Denver bench, turned and stared down the Nuggets while the ball was in flight, then ran downcourt just as the ball splashed through the net.
“That was like the best-feeling shot I’d had all year,” Curry said a couple of days later. “They were all up and they were all chirping. So it was fun.”
Normally, Curry says it takes until the midway point of a ball’s arc to the hoop -- when he’s had a chance to assess the rotation and see if the trajectory looks as good as his setup, balance and lift suggested it might -- that he knows a shot’s going in.
“That was a little special one,” Curry said. “I had 120 percent confidence in that one.”
The Warriors have confidence in Curry. They see him out there balling with blood pooled in his right eyeball and bruises on his orbital socket from an accidental poke by Corey Brewer in Game 4. He’s been playing on a left ankle that he sprained in Game 2.
And he’s looking more Oakland by the minute.
“I’m not from here, but I’d like to set up roots here for a long time, hopefully,” Curry said. “It’d be cool. I’m not going to try to infiltrate their [fraternity]. This is where they grew up; It’s their neighborhood.
“But, like, Tim Hardaway, a guy that played here for a while -- Run-TMC and all that stuff -- you remember him as a Warrior. That would be something pretty cool to have. Especially if you win in the playoffs and the teams are doing well.”