The Warriors narrowly edged the Celtics last night in Oakland, 109-105, in a game that was within a couple possessions most of the way. As if plucked directly from the hopes and wishes of fans sick to death of this stretch of NBA basketball being defined by injuries and conflict, the game Saturday night featured spectacular, transcendent performances from Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving, two of the most telegenic players in the NBA:
I urge you to poke around in that video for those few ecstatic moments when one of these guys had the ball and the space and/or impetus to go directly at the other. It didn’t happen often—the Celtics, for obvious reasons, were less willing to let Kyrie try to fight over screens and stay attached to Steph, which meant that Steph spent much of the night baking various cross-matched defenders—but there were a few memorable sequences. In the first quarter, with the Celtics up three, Kyrie had a couple seconds to isolate against Steph out on the wing, and hit him with an absolutely sickening jab-step, pump-fake, spin-move sequence, into a baseline fadeaway jumper. In the third quarter, Steph ran Kyrie into a Draymond Green screen and immediately flowed into a pull-up three, then immediately picked Kyrie’s pocket at the other end.
It was that third quarter when the game really took off. Kyrie struggled to get his shot off against a more committed Warriors defense—he attempted just two shots in more than nine minutes of burn—but Steph erupted, and brought the home crowd along with him. Kyrie treated viewers to a scorching 7-for-7 start to the game; Steph spent the third quarter dropping 18 points on 10 shots, including a perfect 4-for-4 from deep, to drag the Warriors from a four-point deficit to a seven-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, with just over five minutes left in the game and the Warriors up just a point, Steph used a quick crossover to blow past Kyrie towards the baseline, and dropped in a signature high-arcing floater over Jayson Tatum. The Celtics were wise to put Terry Rozier on Steph for most of the closing minutes, but by then only an ACME piano could’ve stopped him: Steph closed the game with 15 points on four shot attempts and eight free throws in the final frame, including an ice-cold pull-up, go-ahead three with under two minutes to go, a driving layup to extend the lead to five, and the free throws that finally iced the game.
Kyrie finished with 37 points on just 18 field goal attempts; Steph finished with 49 points on just 24 field goal attempts. With the Cavs looking like crap, and no other team in the East likely to pose much of a threat to the Warriors, this, right now, is the best possible Finals matchup. Give me the NBA’s two preeminent galaxy brain shot-creators, unpacking bottomless bags of tricks in a high-stakes game of oneupmanship, stretched out over a full Finals series. Please.