PORTLAND, Ore. — Look up "perfunctory" in the dictionary. First of all, why do you still own a dictionary? Are you a time traveler from the year 2000? I'll save you the effort: "An action or gesture carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection." There's no photo from Monday night's Warriors/Blazers game next to the text, but give it some time.
The energy at the Moda Center wasn't necessarily one of resigned apathy. After all, these are Portland fans—maybe the most dedicated in the league. There were plenty of signs sporting slanderous slogans like "We May Be Down, But at Least We're Not from California" or "All-Weather Fans," despite the grim scenario the home team faced. Still, there were conspicuously empty seats, the free rally T-shirts noticeably draped over the back.
The Golden State Warriors jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back in a dominant 128-103 Game 4 win to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers. At no point did the Blazers have a chance in the game, and no moment was more indicative of this domination than when Steph Curry turned his back on a three-pointer he knew was going in.
"That was the shot that felt the best in a long time," he told reporters after he got done batting around the Blazers like a dog with a ragged chew toy. "I've actually missed some when I've done that before. I'm not flawless."
He might as well have been Monday. Thirty-seven points on 12-of-20 shooting. Seven-of-11 from three. Eight assists. Seven rebounds. Two steals. Thirty minutes. It was a dominant performance on a night when all eyes were on his returning teammate, Kevin Durant, who ended up having a quiet effort: 10 points in 20 minutes.
Underneath all the brilliance, something seems different with Curry this year. Perhaps it has to do with his third campaign under the microscope of worldwide attention, or the all-consuming drive to avenge their loss to the Cavs in last year's NBA Finals, or simply a reaction to going from plucky underdog to despised villain in the span of a couple of seasons. But there's an edge that's palpable when you watch No. 30 work.
"You don't want to let go of the rope or give the other team any kind of confidence or momentum," he said of the sense of urgency around closing out the Blazers as soon as possible.
That's not exactly saying you want to slit their throats and steal their wallets, but they are the words of a guy who knows exactly what he and his team are capable of. What the Warriors did Monday night was with half a Durant, no Shaun Livingston and no Matt Barnes. We're talking about major bench minutes for Patrick McCaw and Ian Clark. The Warriors are not even healthy, and they're picking apart a good team with breathtaking efficiency.
When you're that good, not acknowledging it makes you seem blissfully unaware rather than humble. It's the kind of thing you say when you're the guy who pulls up near half court and drains a contested three. The kind of person who would even dream of doing that has to be cocky, by definition—otherwise why even attempt it if you think you can't?
If he's not turning his back on the basket like Swaggy P, he's shimmying his shoulders after a make or flashing the kind of cocky smile that one usually only sees on the rich bad guy from a bad sports movie. At least that's how fans outside of the Bay Area see him. Supreme belief in one's self and the ability to back it up is great, unless you're on the receiving end of said ability.
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Curry's not quite on the animosity level of Draymond Green, though. Unless he starts kicking people or making faces at opposing players on a regular basis, Green will hold onto his top heel status as long as he wants. But, as long as the Warriors continue walking over teams in the fashion that they are right now, the heat will continue to grow.
"There was a nice energy to us before the game—loose, but focused," Curry said.
The feats of athletic achievement are one thing. The effortlessness is another.
Watch Russell Westbrook play and he looks like he's really, really trying. He tries so much that, occasionally, you want to put a hand on his shoulder and say, "It's gonna be all right, man."
Michael Jordan used to stick his tongue out when he was about to do something highlight-worthy. Kobe did that thing where he jutted out his chin and snarled.
Curry plays basketball the way some people bag groceries, though I have not personally witnessed anyone behind-the-back-pass my box of cereal quite yet. That's why we were so appalled when he threw his mouthpiece into the stands during the Finals last year. Steph Curry doesn't lose his cool, even when it gets hard.
The truth is, until the Finals, everything is perfunctory for this Warriors team. Can we blame Curry for his swagger when a third straight trip to the Finals has the air of inevitability we usually reserve for such mundane daily events as the rising of the sun or morning traffic in Los Angeles?
It's unfair for fans and pundits to expect any less from our greatest athletes. Curry's feeling himself, and rightfully so.
Dave Schilling is a writer at large for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @dave_schilling.