OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Fresh charcoal gray NBA Finals cap on backward and wearing a wide grin, Stephen Curry summed up his wild, up-and-down postseason so far and reminded everybody he’s not close to done.
The MVP’s got his groove back, all right – looking healthy again at last after dealing with a troublesome ankle, right knee sprain that sidelined him and even a puffy elbow from an awkward dive into the stands.
“Now we’re four wins away from our goal, and that’s a pretty special accomplishment,” Curry said Monday night after his Golden State Warriors wrapped up the Western Conference finals by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7.
Curry is taking the 73-win Warriors back to the NBA Finals with a shot at a second straight championship, his plan from the get go.
Golden State’s ultimate goal of a repeat title has been in the works since Day 1, even if the Warriors’ chances of digging out of a big hole against Oklahoma City looked dire just last week. His body beat up, Curry had no choice but to watch fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson and others carry the Warriors for much of this postseason run while he worked his way back.
It’s his time again.
Just as he did after the Warriors won Game 5 to stave off elimination, Curry chanted through Oracle Arena, “We ain’t going home!” as Golden State became just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a postseason series with Monday night’s 96-88 Game 7 victory.
Curry and his teammates earned a day off Tuesday before preparations begin in earnest Wednesday for a Finals rematch against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost last season’s title to Golden State in six games.
For Curry, there’s just one more step to take to cap a remarkable, record-setting season.
The 28-year-old global superstar earned the first unanimous MVP award in league history, while also becoming the first player not only to make 300 3-pointers in a season but also 400 – he finished with 402 – before a series of injuries slowed him when it mattered most.
There was the injured ankle in the first-round Houston series, then he returned only to slip on a wet spot in Game 4 against the Rockets and sprained his right knee. He made a dive into the Oracle Arena stands against the Thunder and gave himself a puffy elbow, and for a few games Curry hardly looked comfortable with his typically breezy ballhandling and shoot-from-anywhere rhythm.
Until he did again.
His teammates have come to expect nothing less, even when Curry’s body is hurting and speculation swirls about whether he is playing somewhere around 70 percent. He has learned to block out the chatter along the way, knowing that just comes with being the best.
“That’s really one thing that I admire about him. He’s a person that’s never going to change for anybody. He hasn’t changed to try to prove anything,” said 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. “He just stayed true to himself.”
Curry scored 36 points in the deciding game while making seven 3-pointers and dishing out eight assists. He wound up with 32 3s against the Thunder, the most ever in a seven-game postseason series.
“I feel joy, for sure,” he said. “This is an unbelievable accomplishment, to go back to back to the Finals and continue this journey. So I’m kind of just taking in the moment and enjoying it with my teammates.”
And for anybody still questioning his toughness, Coach of the Year Steve Kerr brushes such things aside with another timely joke: “Because he looks like he’s 12.”
Perhaps it’s easy to forget how Curry led the Warriors to an NBA-record 24-0 start and a record 73-9 finish.
“You have an MVP, two-time, and what he contributes every single night and what he means on the floor for them, you just have to have your antenna up even more,” Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving said.
Four more wins, that’s all Curry cares about right now. However they come.
“The one thing with Steph is he understands that with all these accolades, MVPs, commercials, with all that comes great responsibility to his team, to the organization, the fans. He gets that,” Kerr said. “He understands that if you play poorly, you’re going to get blamed if you’re the star. He’s had a rough playoff go because of the injuries. I think he finally felt right physically the last couple games. And this is who he is. Having a clutch performance in a Game 7. That’s Steph Curry.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.