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Sunday, June 4, 2023

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Stephen Curry drops first 50-ball in Game 7 history as GOAT case continues to grow

The Golden State Warriors have eliminated the Sacramento Kings and advanced to the second round of the playoffs courtesy of the greatest individual scoring performance in Game 7 history. Stephen Curry put up 50 points on Sunday. Fifty. In what could’ve been the final day of a dynasty. 

Prior to Curry, the most points anyone had ever put up in a Game 7 was the 48 that Kevin Durant hung the Nets‘ 2021 loss to Milwaukee (the famous foot game in which Durant was the toe of his shoe away from a game-winning 3-pointer, only to lose in overtime). 

Now, to go any further in this story without honoring Kevon Looney would be a crime. Looney’s 21 boards,  10 of which were offensive, were only short of Curry’s 50-ball on the heroic meter. He is now just the sixth player in history to record multiple playoff games of at least 10 offensive and 10 defensive rebounds. The Warriors better have somebody working on this man’s statue as we speak. 

But back to Curry. You hear about these “refuse to lose” psycho athletes, but you cannot refuse to lose. It isn’t humanly possible, to whatever extent that Curry is, actually, human. What you can do is refuse to go out on anyone’s terms but your own. 

If Curry was going to go down on Sunday, which looked like a strong possibility through the first half of this game, he was going to go down with the pedal pegged to the floor. Dude put up 38 shots. Made 20 of them against a bloody-fast Sacramento defense that was chasing him, and has been chasing him all series, like a three-strike fugitive. 

Curry hit seven 3-pointers, Simple math tells you he made 13 shots inside the arc, which, incidentally, goes down as the most 2-pointers he’s ever made in a playoff game. Indeed, Curry had to pull out all the tricks in this one. The step-back 3s. The midrange pull-ups. The fancy finishes, including one falling-down finger roll that would be laughed out of most HORSE games. 

The final score of this game, 120-100, suggests a lopsided affair. It wasn’t. Sacramento led at halftime, and their points, as they did for much of these series, were coming easier, typically an indication of a team that’s going to pull out a small-margin matchup. 

Klay Thompson couldn’t hit a thing. He, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins finished a combined 12 for 44. Golden State missed 11 free throws. Other than Looney’s hardhat heroism, there was nothing about this game that suggested the Warriors could win besides Curry. Turns out, he’s pretty much all you need. 

With this performance, Curry continues to climb the all-time-player pantheon. Where he, or anyone else, ranks is a matter of opinion. But it’s getting to the point where you can’t responsibly keep him out of the GOAT conversation. 

And I’m not talking about the GOAT point guard. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went that route after Game 6. I see no need to positionally qualify the claim. If he’s worthy of honest debate for the greatest point guard ever with Magic Johnson, then he’s worthy of honest debate for the greatest player, period, because that’s where Magic rightfully resides in the conversation.  

I know a lot of people will scoff at the idea of Curry rising to the Rushmore ranks. But again, I’m just saying “in the conversation.” Because that’s all anyone can say. There are no definitive rankings here, to state the obvious. Once you’ve earned conversation status, then let the people duke it out on Twitter. Bill Simmons can write another book. 

Bottom line. Curry’s merits are starting to speaking for themselves, and he’s not even close to done. He is playing as great as he ever have with no signs of slowing down. What if he gets his fifth title, equaling the likes of Magic and Kobe Bryant and topping Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James, whom he now has the chance to eliminate from the playoffs for the fourth time?

There’s still a long way to go for Curry to put another ring on his finger, but it’s certainly within reach. At this point, in these playoffs, anyone can win. If Curry does it, there are going to be some tough conversations to have about where a guy that has never fit the traditional ideals of an all-time player actually ranks as an all-time player. Because it might be getting pretty close to the top. Close enough, at least, to have an honest conversation. 

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