Few things motivate like the sweet sense of revenge.
And Steph Curry, after leading his Golden State Warriors to a Game 5 win Wednesday night over the Los Angeles Lakers, now has a shot at some serious vengeance.
In besting the Lakers, 121-106, the defending champions closed the gap of their second-round playoff series to 3-2. Win in Los Angeles on Friday and there’s a chance at a rare kind of comeback — and some sweet payback.
In the sport’s history, only 13 teams have come back in the playoffs when down 3-1. And one of those comebacks — arguably the most impressive and important ever — arrived courtesy of LeBron James at the expense of Curry and his Warriors.
That was in the 2016 NBA Finals, when the 73-win Warriors team cruises to an easy 3-1 series lead — until the LeBron-led comeback happened.
The King lifted his team out of a deep, deep hole, an act of basketball greatness that didn’t just bring his then-Cleveland Cavaliers team a championship. It also deprived Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of that 73-win Warriors team the chance to claim the title of the greatest team ever.
So what a thing it would be, near the end of LeBron’s career, with his chances at another championship diminishing, for Curry to return the favor.
“Now it shifts,” he told TNT’s Inside The NBA after the win. “I think we can play better. Obviously I haven’t shot the ball well from three. Klay’s been hit or miss. I feel like we can take another step. That’s the beauty of the playoffs. Every game is its own narrative.”
He’s right, of course. They can be better in large part because they’ve often been underwhelming in this series. Which is why winning in L.A., let alone winning the next two games, will be no easy task. And the machinery of the Warriors longrunning dynasty still seems weathered and creaky despite this victory.
Curry may have had 27 in the win, but he was just 3 of 11 from deep. As he noted, he’s been poor this series on that front: 17 of 53, or just 32%. And he hasn’t been alone in playing well below the level we’ve come to expect.
Thompson has also been lackluster, a pattern he continued Wednesday night. The fact Golden State kept this series alive despite Thompson’s continued struggles — he had 10 points on a 3-of-12 shooting night — does not take away from how badly they could use his help going forward.
Jordan Poole has been mostly poor, too. Draymond Green, despite an excellent Game 5, has also been unreliable. Steve Kerr has been so befuddled by who to turn to he started JaMychal Green (zero minutes Wednesday night) early in the series, and then Gary Payton II the last two games (20 total minutes in this series’ first two games).
Not exactly decisive stuff.
And this is still the team that won only 11 road games in the regular season. It is still the team with so much drama weighing on it — the Jordan Poole incident from last fall, the pressure to keep things going, the uncertain futures after this season of both Draymond Green and president of basketball operations Bob Myers.
There’s also the matter of the daunting task of trying to get past James, a bane to this team in the past, the man who cost the Warriors that title and a large slice of history seven years ago.
We don’t know the status of Anthony Davis after he left Wednesday’s game with a head contusion, and other factors could certainly shape how things go from here.
But it’s also true what Curry said after the win. They can be better. He can be better.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold, though Frank Sinatra said it better: That the best revenge is actually massive success.
If Curry, one of the game’s all-time greats, can take that next step he was talking about and lead the Warriors to a win Friday night in Los Angeles, he’ll be on the cusp of both — serving that payback to another all-time great in LeBron all these years later. The chance to realize that massive success at his rival’s expense is oh so tantalizingly close.