OAKLAND, Calif. — As Stephen Curry nailed a 14-foot floater immediately after halftime of Game 1 to cut the Golden State Warriors' deficit to merely 18, the videoboard suspended over Oracle Arena instinctually gave those two points to the San Antonio Spurs, who were rolling toward a resounding win to kick off the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.
It only took two, maybe three seconds for the error to be rectified, and nothing else seemed to go the Spurs' way after that—not with Kevin Durant exploiting mismatches everywhere to finish with 34 points on 21 shots, not with Kawhi Leonard going down later in that pivotal third quarter with a left ankle injury.
And not with Stephen Curry giving the kind of MVP performance that eluded him in the later rounds of last year's playoff run.
After Leonard's exit, Curry spurred the Warriors to an 18-0 run that gave any comeback hopes some needed oxygen. His three with 1:47 left tied the game at 106 apiece, and his floater with nine seconds to go capped off a 113-111 victory that now stands as the greatest halftime comeback win in Warriors playoff history.
"When it's crunch time, it was nice to get that feeling where we kind of overcame some rough patches and found a way to get it done," Curry said afterward.
That final score—a gliding, confident maneuver in space—encapsulated a vintage night for Curry, who finished with 40 points on 26 shots in fewer than 40 minutes of floor time. He was efficient and disciplined—four turnovers yet no fouls—methodically navigating Golden State's comeback after San Antonio's lead bulged to 25 points midway through the second quarter.
Until Leonard's injury, the Warriors appeared almost certain to drop their first game of this postseason. After sweeping Portland and Utah in the first two rounds, Golden State looked sleepy and disinterested for the majority of the first half.
The Warriors showed some life after the intermission, which included not only encouraging words from acting head coach Mike Brown but the man he has temporarily replaced, Steve Kerr. Curry was able to cut the deficit to 15 twice on two separate threes, but the Spurs would not relent and led by 23 when Leonard went down.
But even with Leonard's awkward landing on Zaza Pachulia's foot exiling him to the locker room for the remainder of the day, the Warriors still had to put in work to surmount a hole they'd dug themselves with stagnant, indecisive ball movement and scattered defense.
From that point on, the game swung inexorably in Golden State's favor, with Curry catalyzing the comeback effort by directing the offense with aplomb. They were only down nine headed into fourth, and as Durant worked to break the Spurs' grip early in the final quarter, Curry made sure his teammates' energies would not be wasted.
After the loss, San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich conceded his team was sunk when Curry, following two straight offensive rebounds, swished in a three with 1:47 to go. The Spurs had done yeoman's work in preventing the Warriors from getting multiple scoring chances, but this breakdown in corralling rebounds came at the most inopportune moment.
"It was huge, but it was kind of indicative of what kind of mistakes we might have made," Popovich said. "Great effort, tough loss, great opportunity, and we let it slip away."
"We can move the ball, get everybody involved," Durant said. "When our stars are out, we've got guys that can score off the dribble and create off the dribble. I just try to finish, get shots and make them. It's simple."
Maybe it looked simple at times for Curry in this one, but nothing was easy a year ago when he entered the conference finals against Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in a diminished state. Multiple lower-body injuries had made his superlative play in the regular season little more than a passing memory.
This time, it's been far different. Curry is now averaging 28.6 points in these playoffs, better than all other active players not named LeBron James. He's shooting 41.5 percent on threes. His minutes are still below 35 per night. He's committing fewer turnovers and fouls and posting his best effective field-goal percentage than in any other playoffs, per Basketball Reference.
Sure, Curry had his moments last spring, such as his all-time record 17 overtime points in Game 4 of the second round against the Blazers.
Against Portland, Utah and San Antonio this year, Curry has thus far stayed upright and mobile, agile and lethal, and it shows. Even with Klay Thompson figuratively missing in action (six points on 11 shots), even with a 12:30 pm start time translating to disjointed, ugly hoops, and even with Andre Iguodala missing the entire second half with a sore left knee, Curry can be counted on to lift his team as much as it needs.
In Game 1, the Warriors needed everything he had. Now, with injuries making Leonard's potential impact on this series more uncertain—a common refrain for Curry a year ago—the Warriors are staring at a third straight trip to the Finals. As long as Curry stays healthy and rested, it's almost assured.
For Golden State, so far, so good.
Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His book, Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal.