SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Stephen Curry slapped the ball as the Golden State Warriors called their final timeout. He slapped it once more before pointing and yelling the phrase that has become the rallying cry for his first-round opponent: “Light the beam!”
Curry all but single-handedly carried the Warriors across the finish line as they defeated the Sacramento Kings 120-100 in Game 7 of their Western Conference series on Sunday.
Curry erupted for 50 points on 20-of-38 shooting, the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history. Curry is the first player in Warriors history with 40-plus points in a Game 7.
“There is a reason he is a two-time MVP, a Finals MVP, because he pushes us over the top in moments like this,” Warriors teammate Klay Thompson said. “When he’s in the zone like that, you try to just get him in his spots, get him the ball and get out of the way. This is a Game 7 I will forever remember as the Steph Curry game.”
This was the fifth Game 7 the Warriors have played in during the past 10 seasons. All of them have a measure of fame or notoriety — from falling to the LA Clippers in the first round in 2014 to completing a 3-1 comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016 to giving up a 3-1 advantage to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. Then there was the game when the Houston Rockets missed 27 straight 3s in 2018.
“You can always go into the memory bank of how you feel in these types of environments because there are still nerves and butterflies,” Curry said. “Once the ball drops, it’s just playing basketball at the end of the day.”
Thompson told ESPN this Game 7 win was the most gratifying he has been a part of. Golden State forward Draymond Green agreed, stating it’s because of what Curry did.
“You talk about the last dance … that takes things up a couple of notches. So this one definitely feels special,” Green said. “To watch Steph have the game he had, total domination. These are the moments — I’m a basketball fan, and as a fan, you can appreciate it. But as his teammate, that’s the guy you want to go to war with. … He left no doubt.”
“The performance Steph put on,” Green continued, “you look at all the things we have gone through as a team, to win Game 5 here and then go home and lay an egg, to come back here on the road and do it all over again, and do it even better, that speaks volumes.”
Curry scored or assisted on 66 of Golden State’s points in Game 7. As a result of one of his shots or passes, he created 53 of the Warriors’ 100 attempted field goals.
His 38 shot attempts were the most he has had in an NBA game, and his 22 points in the paint also were a career high.
Curry’s performance prompted Warriors coach Steve Kerr to call him one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
But it also was an effort that was necessary for the Warriors to advance.
Curry got little help from his teammates early, as Thompson went 1-of-10 and Jordan Poole scored just five points in the first half. Through the first 24 minutes, the Warriors appeared to be outmatched by the Kings. Yet they trailed by just two points at halftime.
And finally, midway through the third quarter, the Warriors woke up. The game-changer was their presence on the boards: Golden State grabbed 23 rebounds to Sacramento’s nine, 13 of which were offensive, tied for the most they have had in any quarter in the past 20 campaigns (regular season or playoffs).
Once again, Kevon Looney was an inciting force, grabbing 10 of the Warriors’ third-quarter rebounds, eight of them on the offensive glass. The Warriors shot 3-of-8 from the field and 3-of-5 from the free throw line immediately after Looney’s offensive rebounds.
Through rebounding, the Warriors slowed down the Kings, taking control of the pace and attempting 10 more shots in the third quarter. They outscored Sacramento by 22 in the second half, tied for the fifth-largest point differential in the second half of a Game 7 in NBA playoff history.
Curry scored 30 of his points in the second half, becoming the first player since 1996-97 to score that much in the second half in any Game 7.
“When you see something that works, you’d be a fool not to stick with it,” Green said. “When Steph gets the ball and he slows down, he’s trying to get to something. And every time we did it, we got to what we wanted to get to. We ran when the opportunity was there; but when it’s not there, let’s slow it down and get a great look.”
The Warriors weren’t necessarily emphasizing getting Curry the ball early on. The biggest difference on the offensive end was to improve their spacing — an area that Kerr called “a disaster” in Game 6.
Curry happened to be the beneficiary of the spacing early on, and he eventually took over.
“He’s Steph Curry,” Kerr said. “He’s that good. His approach to these games is that he is going to go down swinging. He took 18 3s. Just one turnover. Because he had space, he was able to attack and be really aggressive.”
Game 7 mirrored Golden State’s series as a whole: The Warriors looked outmatched early, missing five of their first six 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Kings were cooking.
But somehow, the Warriors stayed close. And when it mattered, they mustered up enough to slam the door shut.
Golden State was the 22nd defending champion to trail 2-0 in a best-of-seven series. With the victory, it became the fifth team to come back and win the series. The Warriors are now 1-9 all time in a best-of-seven series when they trail 2-0.
“We’re defying the odds by still playing at this high of a level,” Curry said. “I know everybody wants to see you fail. That’s kind of the nature of where we’re at right now. We love when we still prove a lot of people wrong. It’s part of our vibe now.”
The Warriors will now face the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals, with Game 1 on Tuesday at San Francisco’s Chase Center.