Eastern time zone residents might have gone to bed before the second half began in Game 4 of the West semifinal series between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Time zones — like life itself, and Steph Curry — can be unfair.
What’s also unfair: If the Warriors win on Wednesday night, Dubs-Blazers will end in five games, while the Raptors-Heat monstrosity could go the full seven.
Alas, those depressing thoughts are better saved for another day. On the morning after Game 4, all one should do is celebrate the magnificent competition some Americans were fortunate enough to witness in Portland’s Moda Center.
This was a close NBA playoff game, and a great one on the raw merits of what both teams produced. This was a valuable game for the Warriors, who gave themselves a chance to create a short series and rest themselves for a very formidable opponent in the Western Conference semifinals. This was a game in which the Warriors redrew the balance of power in the NBA playoffs, reclaiming the status of unquestioned favorite after Steph Curry’s injury plunged the issue into a deep, dark pit of doubt.
This game contained a considerable measure of importance. Its impact on the whole of the NBA playoffs won’t be known for a few more weeks, but everyone can appreciate how influential it might become in the course of time. For so many reasons, this was a weighty occurrence… and yet that realization — combined with the quality of the contest itself — barely begins to even scratch the surface of why this event will remain a radiant and resonant spectacle, the kind of moment which illuminates a basketball season long after the final seconds of the NBA Finals drip off the scoreboard clock.
What we saw on Monday in Portland will light our summers and autumns, filling the days and weeks before the 2016-2017 season begins. Two decades from now, when Steph Curry has retired, we’re going to write feature-length essays on this game and how it defined a career… and a great team’s historic season.
Where were you when Steph came back from an injury to drop 40, 9 and 8 on an opponent which played well over its head? Where were you when the reigning NBA MVP — about to be re-crowned — snatched a game from the league’s most surprising team and its own superstar?
It’s the kind of memory which won’t fade away as the years go by. We’re going to remember for a very long time that a generationally special player — after missing his first nine threes — hit five of his last seven on a night when he had to play 37 minutes, roughly a dozen more than his team and head coach expected… and probably wanted.
Steph Curry risked overextending his body after being out of action for two whole weeks and nearly three weeks altogether. It was not merely easy, but rational and even prudent, to think he needed to be held back.
When his body could have broken down due to fatigue, Steph instead got stronger as the game went on. By the end, he was working his familiar and impossible voodoo magic against the luckless, stricken Blazers and their owner:
Blazers owner Paul Allen left in awe of Steph Curry pic.twitter.com/jWs3ALTVSG
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 10, 2016
The details surrounding Steph’s performance — not just the cold start, but the injury and the layers of concerns surrounding it — elevates Monday’s display to a far higher level of greatness than the raw numbers (40-9-8, 17 points in overtime) suggest… and the raw numbers are jawdropping.
That’s just one glimpse into the ways in which Warriors-Blazers Game 4 transcended the ordinary, and became a “Where were you when?” moment.
Consider how Steph’s opposite number, Portland superstar Damian Lillard, similarly missed nine straight threes at one point in this game — starting 3 for 18 from the field — but heated up in crunch time when his team needed him to be great:
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 10, 2016
The rise of Curry from a mediocre beginning, immersed in the whirl of concerns about his and his team’s health, represented a remarkable storyline in its own right. To see Curry and Lillard, two of the game’s elite shooter-scorers, lifting themselves above the rest of what had already become a compelling firefight (with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, C.J. McCollum, and Al-Farouq Aminu all throwing haymakers) turned this game into a next-level showcase.
Still, the full story of this game hadn’t been told.
Classic sports moments contain a sharply unexpected plot twist. This one contained several, but the most remarkable one unfolded in the final minute of regulation.
Harrison Barnes, stapled to the bench by a displeased Steve Kerr after riding the struggle bus most of the evening, re-entered the game with just over two minutes left. However, he did so not because Kerr underwent a change of heart. He re-entered because Andrew Bogut fouled out. Only when given that opportunity by the fickle fingers of circumstance did Barnes hit the shot which saved this game… and enabled Curry to gain an overtime stage in which he rewrote the sports record book:
Might've been the first actual play I've seen this half. https://t.co/6jNL7odDYK
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 10, 2016
Barnes’s unlikely emergence — only because of circumstance — paralleled the breakout fourth quarter for Curry in the sense that another player’s disqualification made it possible.
If Shaun Livingston had not been tossed midway through this game, Curry doesn’t play as many minutes, and wouldn’t have been able to work his way into form — or at least, we think so:
Scott Foster unwittingly set the stage for one of the most incredible performances in NBA history. @crossoverNBA @Bruce_Jenkins1
— John Cannon (@JCannonSports) May 10, 2016
This many plot twists. This many great performances (Lillard, Aminu) relegated to the status of footnotes.
The most underachieving player on the Warriors (Barnes) hitting the shot which saved the game and — possibly — the chase for a championship.
The most prolific one-man overtime period in sports history:
Stephen Curry's 17 points in OT are the most ever scored in overtime of ANY game (regular season or postseason) pic.twitter.com/f2y089uOGZ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 10, 2016
Two disqualifications (Livingston and Bogut) setting the stage for the night’s heroes.
Game 4 of Warriors-Blazers had it all… and then some.
We’re going to hold onto this memory long after the careers of every participant have ended.