SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors were minutes away from a potentially series-shifting loss.
Grizzlies star Ja Morant, out for Game 4 with knee soreness, wasn’t standing in their way. A 30-point win in Game 3 wasn’t the momentum shifter it seemed to be. With coach Steve Kerr out due to COVID-19, the Warriors were listless. And down 10 points two minutes into the fourth quarter, they didn’t seem to have an answer.
Steph Curry entered midway through the fourth with a reminder: In the playoffs, he always has an answer. Even if it’s subtle.
Without panic, Curry dropped 18 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to lead Golden State to a 101-98 Game 4 win and a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The Warriors took their first and only lead of the game with 45 seconds remaining in the game on a pair of Curry free throws.
Eight of Curry’s 18 points in the fourth came on free throws, a testament to the adjustment he made to challenge the Memphis defense and draw fouls. He also hit two key 3-pointers, lighting up the Chase Center fans who had been sitting on their hands all game, waiting for magic.
Curry’s first points of the quarter achieved what the Warriors could have been doing most of the game — exploiting Memphis big man Steven Adams, who had just returned from a COVID-forced absence. Curry drew Adams on a switch and breezed by him for an and-1 layup.
Then, Curry hit consecutive 3-pointers — one off a screen from Otto Porter Jr. and the other from the top of the key to put the Warriors within one. Dillon Brooks, the Warriors’ Enemy No. 1 in this series, was the defender on both shots. Curry then made his toughest shot of the night: He drove from the corner, placing his hand on the ground to keep balance, then stepped back and hit a jumper over two defenders.
This is a great example of Curry’s constant movement, he drifts to the corner, Poole hits him, he nearly tumbles on the baseline recovers and stops on a dime for the jumper. pic.twitter.com/Bs1U6JAr6q
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) May 10, 2022
In seven shot attempts — and after a mid-game shoe change from his kicks honoring the late TNT broadcaster Craig Sager to the lavender ones he wore in Game 3 — Curry flipped the game’s script.
“It was just not letting the first three quarters influence the fact that we still had a chance to win the game,” Curry said. “So just understanding we’ve been here before. Whether we won or lost, the intentions of how we could give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter was all we focused on.”
Curry is a seasoned playoff veteran with three NBA championship rings to his name. He knows any game is winnable. And despite becoming the first player to reach 500 career 3-pointers in the playoffs, his most impactful minutes haven’t necessarily come with massive 3-point flurries.
Curry has made 42.8 percent of his 3-point attempts over his career but he’s only shooting a pedestrian 36 percent from 3 in the playoffs this year. Still, he’s outpacing the rest of the league in crunch time. Curry leads all players in fourth-quarter scoring this postseason, averaging nine points in the final frame.
Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Memphis’ Ja Morant trail him with just under nine points per game in the fourth, but they’re both playing about nine minutes per fourth quarter to Curry’s seven.
The averages are a result of him rising to the moment: His 38% from 3 in the fourth quarter is a step up from 32% in the first half during these playoffs. He’s shooting 45% from the field overall in the first half and 53% in the fourth quarter.
“That’s just Steph,” Klay Thompson said. “He has that mindset where he is the best shooter of all time and it just takes one good look at the rim or free throw and, when that happens, the floodgates open.”
The Warriors started 0-for-15 from 3 Monday night and Curry missed his first four 3-point attempts to mark a sluggish first three quarters for the superstar. But with his championship pedigree, Curry overcame a rough start to create a sparkling finish.
“He’s got to be the easiest superstar to be around,” acting head coach Mike Brown said after the win. “I hate to say, I don’t know if he has a great memory, which is fantastic. You need that in his position, because he missed shots that he can make in his sleep. And so because he doesn’t think about it or think about the past or dwell on it too hard, he always thinks that the next thing is going to happen in a positive manner for him.”