DENVER – On a night like many others, everything changed. Stephen Curry had these thunderclap games before, but never in the playoffs, and that moved him to a new level. Warriors owner Joe Lacob had felt vindicated by his gamble before, but never like this as he searched for the explanation of what a performance in late April means years from now.
That’s the key description: late April. May or June work, too. Curry cut up the Nuggets in the playoffs is the thing. The time when reputations are really earned by anyone hoping to gain entrance into the world of NBA stars.
Curry has definitely built the resume, even while being passed over for the All-Star Game in what had to have been a near miss. He is arguably the best shooter in the game. He finished seventh in the league in scoring. He set a single-season league record for 3-pointers. He is back in the Team USA mix.
But for true credibility, for generating buzz unlike anything that could happen in a dozen of these Tuesday nights during the regular season, there was Game 2 of the first-round series and Curry going for 30 points, 13 assists against one turnover, and three steals to lead Golden State to a 131-117 fireworks show of a victory at the Pepsi Center and a 1-1 tie in the best-of-seven matchup that moves to Oakland.
And there was also teammate Richard Jefferson in front of his locker after the game. Jefferson has played 12 seasons and is in the playoffs for the ninth time, some with long runs, so he knows this is different.
“A hundred percent,” Jefferson said. “From my experience of just being around this league, it doesn’t matter if you’re an All-Star, it doesn’t matter if you’re this or that. When you play well in the playoffs, it carries over all summer long. There’s a certain respect that goes with. It’s the same thing with guys who win championships. There’s a certain elite group, an elite club of guys, that are like, ‘Hey, I respect you. I know what you’ve done. I know what you’ve been through. You’ve been to the mountain top.’ ”
And there was Lacob, the beaming owner, outside the locker room. Lacob had invested $44 million over four years in October to sign Curry — with a concerning history of ankle problems that remained a pressing issue last season — to a contract extension. It had been obvious since early in 2012-13 and now it had become official the once-risky move was now a brilliant one.
Had the Warriors waited until July to re-sign Curry as a restricted free agent, wanting proof that he could hold up, it would have cost the franchise millions more. At the very least, Curry would have upped his asking price. At worst, another team would have gone completely over the top with an offer sheet. Golden State would have needed a millisecond to match, but at a much greater cost than an average of $11 million annually.
This was proof.
“Besides the fact that I’m getting an ulcer and my neck is killing me I’m so nervous?” Lacob said, smiling.
Yes, exactly. Besides that and all the way to an extra feeling of vindication.
“Yes,” he said.
Lacob paused and broke out in laughter.
“I don’t know what else to say,” he did say. “I think we’ve known that all year, so this is no surprise to us tonight. He’s been playing like this all year. It means more in the playoffs, certainly. But it wasn’t just him tonight.”
One night was that big of a deal, to the team and the player and the entire franchise moving forward. One night was Curry taking the next step. Things had become different even if they were the same.