CLEVELAND — As Stephen Curry came off the floor and ran through the tunnel after Game 3 of the NBA Finals, he buried his face in his jersey and shouted into it so nobody could read his lips.
What was there to be mad about? The Warriors had just beaten the Cavaliers 110-102 behind a brilliant performance from Kevin Durant, positioning themselves to do exactly what they did Friday night—sweep their way to a second straight NBA title.
When it came to what triggered Curry's odd outburst, it wasn't what, but who. Curry was mad at himself for a dismal shooting performance—3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-10 from his happy place.
"Sometimes you have to get rid of those thoughts and understand there is another opportunity on Friday to rectify that," Curry said.
There sure was. And he sure did.
With a 37-point onslaught in the championship clincher, a 108-85 demolition of the Cavs, Curry left Cleveland with his second straight title and third in four years—but without the Finals MVP trophy that remains out of reach.
"Yeah, there is a sense of pride around those things," Curry said. "But when it comes to me looking at myself in the mirror after every game, after every season, and know I played my best—or, I should say, I gave my best effort and had the right intentions and really appreciated every day that I got to play—and have that sense of pride of what I was able to do out there on the floor and how I can help my team win a championship, that's all that matters to me."
Such are the highs and not-quite-so-highs of playing with Durant, whose 20-point triple-double on the heels of a 43-point performance in Game 3 made him just the sixth player to win back-to-back Finals MVPs. Michael Jordan won three in a row—twice. The others are Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal (three straight), Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Pretty good company. And Durant, a two-time champion, league MVP and two-time Finals MVP, is only 29.
"I think I've got a lot more to go," Durant said.
It wasn't a foregone conclusion this time. Durant was electric in Game 3 while Curry struggled, but let's not forget Curry's Finals-record nine three-pointers in Game 2. Curry and Durant were equally good in Games 1 and 4.
As the Golden State juggernaut sent James off the floor with 4:03 left to a curtain call—perhaps his last in a Cavaliers uniform—the closest competition on the floor was between Curry and Durant. The Warriors are so good and have so much talent that the series was too short to have all the evidence you needed to cast an informed vote.
Durant received seven of the 11 votes from the media panel tasked with making this decision, including Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. Voting for Curry were Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, Jon Barry of ESPN Radio, Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.
I won't quibble with any of them, though for the record, my vote would've been for Durant. But it would've pained me to do so—not because of any ill will toward Durant, but because I feel for Curry getting overshadowed again.
"We all want something that's bigger than ourselves," Durant said. "I think we love to see each other succeed. We love to come together and figure stuff out on the basketball court."
Their coach, Steve Kerr, loves it too.
"Everything Steph is about, everything he is—based on his family and his background and just what he's learned in his life—he's just all about us," Kerr said. "He's all about the team. He's just an amazing human being, and I'm incredibly lucky to coach him."
Some may not like Curry's on-court demeanor, with the shimmying and whatnot, but the fact is he was here first. He endured 26-, 36- and 23-win seasons in his first three years as the No. 7 pick out of Davidson College—under Don Nelson, Keith Smart and Mark Jackson, respectively.
He endured one catastrophic ankle injury after another and was so injury-prone at one point that it seemed he would never be healthy enough to reach his full potential. What a shame that would've been for all involved.
Fast-forward to 2014-15, when he won his first of back-to-back league MVPs—a shot-making savant, a circus act with his own, ever-extending three-point line.
Yet he had enough good sense to recognize, after winning 73 games and losing to LeBron and the Cavs in the 2016 Finals, that there was something missing.
That something ended up being Durant.
"Steph went out and recruited KD with this in mind," Kerr said. "Winning titles."
Curry was the driving force behind the so-called "Hamptons Five," a lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala that ventured to the tony Hamptons on Long Island to make the case to Durant: leaving Oklahoma City for Oakland would be good for all of them.
"I was there in the Hamptons when we had that discussion," Kerr said. "I don't remember anybody asking, 'Who is going to win MVP in the Finals?' It was all about, 'Let's win championships together,' and that's what this is about. You guys can write about MVP. We don't care."
Specifically, Curry doesn't. Which is all the more reason to appreciate him as much as the guy who now lives in NBA history among the rare few who have not one but two Finals MVPs.
"Does it matter?" Durant said, when asked about eclipsing Curry again for the award named after the great Bill Russell. "Does it? Does it?"
There's a reason that trophy is smaller than the other one given out Friday night in Cleveland. And there's a reason Steph Curry walked off the court smiling instead of cursing himself out under his jersey.
"We wanted to just be the champs, see that trophy again, and enjoy each other's company out there and just have fun," Curry said. "And that's what happened. That's why I'm soaking wet right now, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of this."
As he should, MVP or not.