I remember the first time Stephen Curry failed on a big stage.
It was back in 2008, ironically at the apex of his ascension to collegiate super-stardom. For the first three rounds of the tournament, he was unstoppable: 40 points against Gonzaga, 32 against Georgetown, and 33 against Wisconsin. Many people commend Steph for even getting his under-manned Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight, but on the really real, they should have at least made it to the Final Four.
They didn’t make it because after all the hype that he had accrued in the previous week and change, he had a horrible shooting game, particularly in the second half. Sure, he ended with 25 points, but he needed 25 shots to get those 25 points. In fact, many scouts pointed to this game as evidence that he’d be nothing more than a glorified shooter in the league.
Here’s some video from the game.
Two things stick out in my mind:
- The gap between his last two buckets: step-back jumper with 8:54 left… three off an inbounds’ pass with 54.5. During that time, the Wildcats went from being up four to down five.
- To this point in his college career, he was already one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen on any level. Why didn’t he want the last shot? He had gotten the team there. He deserved to take it. For whatever reason, he gave it to his teammate Jason Richards, who wasn’t expecting the ball and had to rush a 40-footer.
The parallel for writing this is obvious: Curry is more or less getting eviscerated for not just having a sub-par Finals, but for closing out his sub-par Finals with yet another stinker. The narrative may be fair or unfair, but Curry’s lack of production (or at the very least his inability to come close to matching his MVP numbers) is a major reason why social media was subjected to an inebriated first-time NBA champion J.R. Smith.
(In fairness, my man did hit some huge shots down the stretch of that game, and a part of me feels robbed that he was never allowed to be “The Man” on a really bad team in his prime.)
So what do we do with Steph now? We spent an entire season enthralled with his highlights. We saw his team set a win record (73) that I’m not sure will ever be broken because the new heightened NBA salary cap is going to level the playing field. We saw him become the first unanimous MVP award winner… and based on his regular season effort, it was well-deserved. Is it fair to toss all that in the garbage because he couldn’t replicate that success in the playoffs? Before you say “yes”, consider 1) he came back from that knee sprain way sooner than he should have, eliminating some of his usual explosiveness, and 2) how many players in this league could average 25–5–5 with 43–41–92 splits during the toughest time of the year to get stats? Not going to lie: with as much as he’s been getting killed, I had to double-check those stats.
But we live in a bottom-line society, right? At the end of the day, Curry was the third or fourth best player in that series. No excuses.
And judging by how he’s fared since his first failure, I think he’ll be just fine.