A league MVP rarely has to justify his stature against an undrafted backup.
Less than a week ago, Stephen Curry found himself in that situation. The Golden State guard was the subject of jokes after Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova earned national praise for his scrappy play against him in the NBA Finals.
But Curry had his way with Dellavedova on Sunday night, highlighted by a dribbling sequence in which he went behind his back before drilling a step-back three-pointer over Dellavedova in the fourth quarter.
Curry finished with 37 points as the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-91 at Oracle Arena to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Warriors can win their first NBA title since 1975 with a victory in Game 6 Tuesday at Cleveland.
Curry put that dazzling play against Dellavedova in perspective.
“It was fun,” Curry said. “But it only means something ... after we win the championship because signature moments only come for players who are holding the trophy at the end of the day. So I can sit here and talk about what a great play it was and what a turning moment it might have been, but we have to be able to back it up and finish the job.”
Golden State will be in good shape Tuesday if Curry has another performance like Sunday’s. He had 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors pulled away down the stretch.
Curry has had only one horrible game in the Finals. That was Game 2, when he made only 5 of 23 shots and missed 13 three-point attempts in a loss. But he hadn’t done anything spectacular in a win in the Finals.
That changed Sunday, when he sank contested shots and played with the flair that helped him win the MVP honor. He made 13 of 23 from the floor, including 7 of 13 three-point attempts. Curry also had seven rebounds and four assists.
Dellavedova, who is starting for injured All-Star Kyrie Irving, could do little to slow Curry after enjoying success by being physical and aggressive.
“You know I’m taking Steph in any matchup,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said. “So (Dellavedova) was hounding and physical, dirty – it’s a fine line, whatever you want to call it. He do what he do, but I was going with Steph no matter what, and I’m still rolling with Steph no matter what.”
For the second consecutive game, the Warriors started a small lineup. Green, a power forward, started at center, replacing Andrew Bogut, and Andre Iguodala joined the front line.
The Cavaliers went small, too, playing center Timofey Mozgov just nine minutes after he had 28 points in Game 4.
The small-ball strategy helped Curry, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
“I thought from the very beginning when they went small, had their shooters out there, I thought this is Steph’s night,” Kerr said. “This is going to be a big one for him because he has all that room. He took over the game down the stretch and was fantastic.”
Curry had to play at an MVP level because LeBron James had another game in which he did all he could to rally the underdog Cavaliers. He posted his second triple double of the series: 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.
Cleveland coach David Blatt was asked repeatedly why he didn’t play Mozgov more.
“Well, we were in the game the way we were playing,” Blatt said. “We were right there. So that’s the way we played it.”
James said the Cavaliers’ use of a small lineup didn’t lead to their downfall. He cited getting back in transition and giving up offensive rebounds as areas of concern.
The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers 18-3 in fast-break points and grabbed two crucial rebounds off free throws in the fourth quarter as Cleveland was trying to come back.
“Whoever’s in the game needs to do their job and do it at a high level,” James said. “Do it to the best of their ability and you live with the aftermath after that.”
Being the underdog hasn’t affected James’ mindset, even with his team facing a must win Tuesday.
“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world,” James said. “It’s that simple.”
Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones.
Warriors lead series 3-2; TV: Ch. 10
- Game 1: Golden State 108, Cleveland 100 (OT)
- Game 2: Cleveland 95, Golden State 93 (OT)
- Game 3: Cleveland 96, Golden State 91
- Game 4: Golden State 103, Cleveland 82
- Sunday: Golden State 104, Cleveland 91
- Tuesday: at Cleveland, 6p.m.
- Friday: at Golden State, 6p.m.*