PORTLAND — I took a moment last night around the time Steph Curry had scored 12 straight points in the overtime period to scroll through my Twitter feed, partially to see how the internet was reacting to what was going on inside the Moda Center and partially to confirm that what we were witnessing was actually happening, that it wasn’t some sort of fever-induced delirium, that I wasn’t really back home at my parents’ house over the holidays, bedridden with the flu, fighting off the cold sweats and conjuring visions of basketball utopia.
It was real, sure enough, but everybody inside the arena needed a cold compress anyway. Those of us who still had a pulse, at least.
Only the jail hasn’t been built yet that could possibly contain the NBA’s first-ever unanimous MVP. Not a shaky ankle, not a wobbly knee, and no amount of rust could’ve stopped what was always going to happen last night, what was obviously preordained by the fickle, vulgar gods of Mount Basketball Olympus. Just look at Curry’s reaction to Damian Lillard drilling a long three to help the Blazers race out to a 12-2 start, the soulless, shark-like vacancy behind the eyes as he casually pedals his stationary bike to nowhere.
Steph Curry’s reaction to Damian Lillard’s deep 3! pic.twitter.com/0rYNCMOrAc
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 10, 2016
Does that look like the face of a man who is in any way concerned about what’s going on? Yet sadly and adorably, the Blazer faithful allowed themselves to believe in a different outcome, to entertain the idea of a parallel universe where Curry wasn’t in full control of their destiny. A universe where a young, scrappy, lovable group of misfits who play their hearts out and fight for one another and believe in themselves — with all the unironic earnestness of youth — might somehow fend off the mighty, monolithic Warriors, even the series at 2-2, and maybe, just maybe, go on to pull off the biggest upset in the history of modern professional sports.
For three-and-half quarters, the Blazers clung to their rapidly-dwindling lead like they were hanging from the ledge of a skyscraper, all the while Curry was looming over them, ready to grind their fingertips to a pulp with the heel of his brightly-colored signature shoe. The fact that he went 0-of-10 from downtown to start the game (the only time that’s ever happened in his career) seems like some sort of cruel and unnecessary rope-a-dope routine in hindsight.
After Game 3, we talked about how Lillard tends to bristle at the comparisons to Curry, but the real insult is believing that any of us even belongs to the same species. Lillard can’t do the things that Curry does because no one can. That’s not a slight on Lillard. It’s a cold, hard, unforgiving truth about the world we live in, a truth that Curry force-fed to us until we were bloated and dead like the gluttony victim in Seven.
He made history last night, like he has so many times before this season, by surreptitiously dreaming up a record that we didn’t even know existed, then summarily shattering that record into jagged little shards of glass for the small, bare tender feet of our children. The game was over the moment it went into overtime. Everybody in the arena and watching at home knew that, whether they’ll admit it or not. The Warriors are a vicious and bloodthirsty pack when they have their victims cornered. The only question was exactly how it would play out. The answer was in a world-historic sense.
Curry turned a prideful and rollicking home crowd into a sea of heads drowning in utter disbelief, no head more prominently sinking like a stone to the lowest depths of confusion and despair than that of Blazers owner Paul Allen, whose stunned and incredulous reaction to what he was witnessing doubled as the birth of a glorious new meme that will live for all eternity in internet lore.
Paul Allen, billionaire owner, staring into the abyss.
And he wasn’t the only one. It was a common expression among the hangdog, funereal procession spilling out of the Moda Center bowels into the brisk Portland night.
The Blazers’ finally ran out of luck on Monday as the Warriors emptied a dump-truck full of steaming hot garbage on their dreams and rode off into the overcast Northern California sunset, where a mercy-killing awaits in Game 5 on Wednesday.
But a grisly end to an otherwise miraculous season shouldn’t erase all the fuzzy vibes they generated on their unlikely run to a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference and an unthinkable, second-round postseason appearance where, over the course of four grueling games, they were nearly the sh*t-sandwich to the defending champs’ normal, five-star, steak-and-lobster feast.
They’re a prideful bunch, and they have every reason to be. They have a bona fide superstar, fabulous young talent surrounding him, and the type of on-court chemistry most NBA teams can only dream about. All of this has combined to generate an unexpected windfall of political capital heading into the summer as their 2015-2016 campaign has become a sort of season-long advertisement for free agency.
The Blazers are still a few pieces away from truly contending for a title, and if history has been any indication, they may not ever get there again. But if you’re a marquee free agent on the hunt for a stable environment and a chance to be the missing piece of a modestly-successful puzzle, there are few better options than Portland.
For the Warriors, there’s no time for eulogies, because the gauntlet doesn’t get any easier from here. First, they have to close out an iron-willed Blazers team in Game 5. They’ll face the implacable victor of the Spurs-Thunder series next, and beyond that, most likely a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is clicking like never before, partially by going full-on Single White Female and shamelessly stealing Golden State’s identity.
But to anyone who was paying even the slightest bit of attention last night, the Warriors are still the overwhelming favorites to repeat as champs in June. That was easy to forget during Curry’s 15-day absence as the rest of the league’s peripheral stars were allowed a brief chance to shine again.
Curry, however, made it abundantly clear that he is back, which is good news for fans who enjoy watching the basketball make its way through the basket ring, and bad news for everyone outside of Oakland.