Stephen Curry Scores 50 Points to Knock Off Kings in Game 7
SACRAMENTO — The Golden State Warriors prepared for the finale of their first-round playoff series with the Sacramento Kings by gathering for an off-day film session on Saturday on an upper floor of Chase Center, their home arena in San Francisco, with a panoramic view of the bay.
Coach Steve Kerr likes to stage his film sessions there when the space is available. Otherwise, he said, the team is stuck “in the dungeon down below,” outside its locker room. He was grateful for the open space, especially ahead of Sunday’s Game 7. It was a therapeutic experience.
“I do think there has to be a sense of perspective,” Kerr said, “even if it’s just a nice view and some sunshine and a chance to breathe and relax between games. That can make a difference.”
Something else can make a difference, too: Stephen Curry. No one seemed more Zen on Sunday than Curry, who led the Warriors to a series-clinching, 120-100 victory by skewering the Kings in every conceivable way on his way to 50 points — an N.B.A. record for a Game 7. He sank parabolic 3-pointers. He drove for layups. He toyed with defenders. And he sent scores of Kings fans streaming into the streets of Sacramento before the game had ended.
“Sublime,” Kerr said.
“Total domination,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
“A joy to watch,” guard Klay Thompson said.
Curry, Thompson and Green have spent years demolishing opponents as one of the N.B.A.’s most celebrated cores. The Kings, on the other hand, were making their first postseason appearance since 2006. They had youth and energy. The Warriors have championship DNA.
“It was a great time to put it all together,” Curry said. “There’s still nerves and anxiousness and anticipation before a big night. But when we get out there, our experience takes over.”
Curry, who arrived at the Golden 1 Center in an all-black ensemble, as if dressed for a wake, shot 20 of 38 from the field and 7 of 18 from 3-point range. He also had eight rebounds and six assists.
“What an incredible all-time performance,” Thompson said.
Golden State, the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, will face the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in a conference semifinal, starting in San Francisco on Tuesday. The Lakers eliminated the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in their first-round series on Friday.
“To do this for a decade, it’s incredible,” Kerr said of his core players. “The energy that it takes to fight off challengers year after year, and have to prepare and win games, and do it over and over — there’s a reason these guys are Hall of Famers and champions.”
The Warriors and Kings franchises have long been based less than 100 miles apart, but for much of the past decade they have produced very different brands of basketball — opposite brands of basketball, in fact.
As the Warriors busied themselves by winning championships (four), playing in N.B.A. finals (six) and re-engineering the way basketball is played thanks to the Splash Brothers (Curry and Thompson), the Kings spent the past decade-plus scuffling through a desert of futility that had them bordering on irrelevance.
Their overhaul began last season when they acquired Sabonis, an All-Star center, in a deal with Indiana. It continued over the off-season when they signed the reserve guard Malik Monk in free agency, traded with Atlanta for Kevin Huerter and hired Mike Brown, one of Kerr’s assistants, as their coach.
Sure enough, led by De’Aaron Fox, their All-Star point guard, the Kings went 48-34 during the regular season, christening each victory by shooting a beam of purple light from the roof of their arena. “Light the Beam!” became a rallying cry, helping to bury — if not completely erase — the dysfunction of years past.
On Saturday night, ahead of Game 7, Brown dined at a Sacramento-area restaurant with his partner’s son. A small parade of young boys approached their table to ask Brown some incisive questions about the team’s players. They asked about Sabonis’s right thumb, which he had fractured during the regular season. They asked about Fox’s broken left index finger. They asked if the first-year forward Keegan Murray would be ready to shoot in Game 7.
“And one of the kids was a Warriors fan, so they started ribbing him,” Brown said. “And he was like: ‘No, I’m not! No, I’m not!’ But he had a Golden State Warriors hat on.”
More than anything, Brown said, he could sense their excitement — a type of postseason anticipation that Sacramento had not experienced in years.
As for the Warriors, their roster seemed to constantly be in a state of flux during the regular season. Curry injured a shoulder and sprained an ankle. Andrew Wiggins, their starting small forward, left the team in mid-February citing personal reasons and missed the final 25 games of the regular season.
Kerr, meanwhile, struggled to strike a balance between securing a playoff berth (no sure thing) and developing young players like Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman, who was eventually traded midseason. Ultimately, Kerr kept leaning on the usual suspects — Curry, Thompson and Green, a defensive stalwart — as the postseason came into sharper focus.
The Warriors welcomed Wiggins’s return for the start of the playoffs, then lost their first two games, which presented a new obstacle: Curry, Thompson and Green found themselves trailing in a playoff series, 2-0, for the first time in their careers. Perhaps they needed a fresh challenge.
On Sunday, Sacramento led, 58-56, at halftime, which is when Golden State — a team known for years for eviscerating teams in the third quarter — went about its usual business. Curry sank a 3-pointer. He sliced through a mix of defenders to scoop in a layup. He drained a floater.
“You can tell when he’s locked in or laser-focused,” Green said.
By the time Kevon Looney, the team’s starting center, scored off an offensive rebound, Golden State led by 9.
The prevailing mood of the Kings fans inside the arena was not necessarily panic, but there was certainly angst. Curry had already been in this sort of situation on so many occasions, and none of it — not the hostile environment, not the pressure of a Game 7 — appeared to bother him. In fact, he was feeding off it.
“This is one of the best players in the history of the game,” Kerr said, adding: “The resilience and the work that goes into that, the focus, it’s incredible to watch.
As Golden State’s lead swelled in the fourth quarter, the crowd’s angst turned to resignation.
Looney capped a terrific series with a double-double, 11 points and 21 rebounds.
“The guy is a flat-out winner and a machine,” Kerr said.
The stage, though, belonged to Curry, which was no surprise. Another one awaits against the Lakers. After Sunday’s game, Curry was asked if anyone could stop him.
“Hopefully, we never find out,” he said.