By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist
BOSTON — If Stephen Curry’s eyes had been lasers, they would have burned holes through the Jumbotron of the TD Garden in the third quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Golden State’s star stared at the giant screen, which was showing former Celtics greats in attendance. As Eddie House pumped his fist and showed off his championship ring from 2008, riling up the already extremely riled up Boston crowd, Curry looked away.
In that moment, something about his expression subtly changed.
I had my binoculars trained on him from the press box high above the floor, and it was like watching the final act of an action movie, in which the superhero has to tap into some extra energy — some untouched store of ability and determination deep inside their soul — to defeat the enemy.
Which Curry did. Handily.
He put up 43 points, his second-most ever in a Finals game (he scored 47 against Toronto to force a Game 6 in 2019), and 10 rebounds as the Warriors tied the series 2-2 with a 107-97 win.
“A lot of it is because of how hostile the environment was, the fans chanting, doing all of their shenanigans and all that,” Curry said after the game. “[And] Boston knowing how big of a game it is for them — if they get the win, they can take control of the series. So it’s all that mixed into the experience of knowing how fickle momentum is in the Finals.”
Celtics fans should have been worried starting in the first quarter Friday, when Curry established his dominance on the court and turned to roar at the crowd. The TD Garden was louder than I’ve ever heard it, fueled by Klay Thompson’s comments about its not being “classy” after Game 3, and Curry seemed to thrive on it.
“Steph obviously doesn’t normally show a lot of emotion, but a night like tonight warranted it,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said later.
Not only did Curry rescue the Warriors (they could not have won without him), but he also did so after hurting his foot in Game 3. Kerr joked that the nonfactor of an injury made it look like Curry was “really struggling out there.” Curry said he didn’t find himself favoring the foot at all, and it didn’t take up too much brain space as he was playing.
Game 4 was arguably Curry’s greatest Finals performance of all time. His splash brother certainly seemed to think so.
“I think probably No. 1,” Thompson said when asked where this game ranks for Curry. “I mean, this was nearly a must-win game, and to go out there and shoot as efficiently as he did and grab 10 rebounds, and they were attacking him on defense. I mean, his conditioning is second-to-none in this league. Steph played incredible.”
Curry certainly put his team on his back, setting the tone early as he racked up 19 points by the end of the first half. It was clear that this was not the Warriors team of Game 3, who let the Celtics go up 68-56 at the half, then regained the lead only to blow it and lose 116-100.
No, this was the Warriors team that has won three championships with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green as the anchors.
And Thompson had 18 on Friday. But this is now also the team of Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney. Wiggins secured a career-high 16 rebounds and scored 17 points in Game 4. The 22-year-old Poole scored 14, and when Looney was on the floor, the Warriors outscored the Celtics by 21 points.
Green wasn’t super effective in Game 4, though his teammates said he brought the same fire and intensity that he has delivered all season and year after year on defense. He finished with nine rebounds and eight assists.
“Incredible,” Green said of Curry. “Put us on his back. Willed us to win. Much-needed win. Game we had to have. Came out and showed why he’s one of the best players to ever play this game, you know, and why, you know, this organization has been able to ride him to so much success. It’s absolutely incredible.”
While Curry might have carried the team up the hill, the Warriors ultimately delivered a statement win all together.
“It just felt like we just had to let everybody know that we were here tonight,” Curry said.
“Whether that’s their crowd, our team, their team, whoever wants to see that energy, that fire — we feed off of that. And I think it helped us just get settled into the game. Because obviously, with our experience, you can want it so bad you kind of get in your own way a little bit. And everybody feels a little bit of pressure. And it can go the opposite way.”
If Curry and the Warriors can keep that fire burning, continuing to find ways to show up and stave off Boston’s smothering defense, the Celtics will be in trouble. The biggest test of their season is about to come in Game 5. The Celtics must dig deep, the way Curry did, to ensure that they don’t fall apart against a Warriors team that played, in Game 4, a better version of Boston’s game.
Because Golden State did in Game 4 what Boston is usually so good at and what, on Friday, Boston could not do. Led by Curry, it ended the game playing as a true unit.
Throughout these playoffs, Boston has been successful because of team cohesion. With a young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, it ran through the Nets and superstar Kevin Durant in a clean sweep.
Then the Celtics defeated Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a grueling, physical, seven-game series. Milwaukee couldn’t withstand Boston’s relentlessness without Khris Middleton on the court.
Neither could Miami. The Heat, the No. 1 seed in the East, melted under Boston’s punishing physicality, which is why we find ourselves here, watching the most experienced Finals team in the league face off against a bunch of first-timers.
And now the Celtics face the ultimate giant in Curry, who made sure to remind them of that in Game 4.
Acting like you’ve been there before often counts for a lot, but having been there sometimes matters more. The Celtics collapsed Friday, committing 16 turnovers and seemingly forgetting how to shoot a basketball. The team looked hauntingly like the January version of itself, which had a 23-24 record while Tatum missed 18 3s in a row over the course of four games.
It’s important to remember, however, that both of these teams have been erratic in these playoffs. Remember when the Warriors lost to Memphis by 39 points?
The Celtics are 7-0 when coming off a loss, which they’ll be doing when they head to San Francisco. Game 5 is anyone’s game, and it will be a decisive one.
“We’ve got to play with that same force in the fourth quarter that we did, bring that Monday,” Thompson said.
This is a series between two teams. But Game 4 was Steph Curry’s game. He is one of those people who are built differently. Who were put on this earth to do something so singularly great, so gloriously transcendent that it makes everyone who watches them feel privileged to do so.
Friday night was the basketball equivalent of watching a man lift a car off a family with his bare hands. It was — as Kerr said — stunning. And superhuman.
Perhaps Wiggins put it best.
“All you can do is watch,” he said. “When Steph has the ball sometimes, you just watch and see what he does.”
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports. She’s honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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