OAKLAND -- No building has ever roared for a jump shot the way Oracle Arena roared for Stephen Curry. If he were merely a stationary jump shooter it would be different. Anyone can make a shot in this league with their feet set and the defense scrambling. But Curry takes it to a different place, a realm where he creates the space and works his magic in a special kind of rhythm that few -- if any -- players have ever been able to create.
It starts with the dribble, a little shake and bake to build the anticipation. Next comes the step back and the release, which yields a half-second of silence before it begins to build back into a wave that comes crashing down on the floor in a deafening crescendo as the ball rips the net.
Watching this from afar an idle thought creeps into your mind. Damn, it must be cool as hell to be Steph Curry sometimes. And Steph can play it cool. His body language has been a subject of some concern during the early part of these finals when everyone began making the case that an undrafted scrapper from Australia named Matthew Dellavedova was getting the best of the league's Most Valuable Player. Even in his best moments, Steph treats his shot attempts with a kind of shrug, like he's critiquing everything from the delivery to the result. When he's off, it looks bad. When he's on, it looks like performance art.
Curry wasn't great in the opener, but no matter, the Warriors found a way to get the win. He was dreadful in Game 2, especially when Dellavedova was hounding him up and down the court. In Game 3 it came to a head as Curry struggled again in the first half, while Dellavedova had the game of his life. The Warriors didn't like this narrative one bit, but Curry played it straight. A little credit here and there, but nothing more.
Curry got his game back together late in Game 3 and carried it over into the gotta-have-it Game 4 when he stayed under control and was his usual efficient self. Finally in Game 5, the dam burst wide open. It started with about nine minutes left and the game tied at 75-all. He hit a pull-up jumper. LeBron James, who was operating in his own solar system, answered with a 34-footer. Then Curry hit Dellavedova with the "bop-bop" as Andre Iguodala called it, and unleashed that stepback three in his face. Oracle roared.
Steph's Big Shots
Steph's Big Shots
The Warriors began to pull away a little, but couldn't shake these determined Cavs. And then ... madness. Curry started right, stopped on a dime, went behind-the-back and back right drifting ever so slightly while Dellavedova flailed helplessly. Once again Oracle roared the roar that it had been saving up for all season. He dropped another one for good measure, this from even further out and it was all over.
After he had scored 37 points on 23 shots, including 17 in the fourth quarter to finish off a 104-91 victory, Curry played it straight again. He talked strategy. He talked about the confidence he got from seeing some shots fall, like he's ever suffered from a loss of confidence shooting a basketball for one single second of his life. He didn't give in after struggling and he wasn't about to give into temptation now that the Warriors were one win from their first title in four decades.
"I mean, it was a fun moment, but it only means something, and I'll probably have a better answer for that question after we win the championship because signature moments only come for players who are holding the trophy at the end of the day," Curry said. "So I can sit here and talk about what a great play it was and what a turning moment it might have been, but we have to be able to back it up and finish the job. It helped us win this game, and hopefully after our next win we can talk about all the great moments in the series."
Thankfully, Draymond Green was sitting next to him to offer the necessary perspective.
"I'm not going to go into signature for the reasons that Steph just gave," Green said. "But it was an incredible play, and I enjoyed watching it from my front row seat."
Look, it's not Dellavedova's fault that he got caught in Curry's undertow. He was put into an impossible situation replacing Kyrie Irving and being asked to be something he's not. The dude is a self-made player who's carved out a career for himself and made a name for himself during these playoffs. But he's not stopping Steph Curry for the duration of a series.
"Yeah, I mean, people were saying that," Green said. "I never really got off into it. You know maybe Steph had an off-game or two. That's basketball. You know, I'm taking Steph in any matchup. So, he was hounding and physical, dirty, it's a fine line, whatever you want to call it. He do what he do, but I was going with Steph no matter what, and I'm still rolling with Steph no matter what."
This series isn't over and the Warriors would be doing themselves a disservice if they get lulled into that trap. Game 6 is only 48 hours away and the last thing they want to do is give LeBron a chance at taking the title from them in Game 7. "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world," James said. "It's that simple."
It may very well be that simple. James was phenomenal again, scoring 40 points to go with 14 rebounds and 11 assists. In the first half he scored or assisted on 16 straight Cleveland field goals. The Cavs matched Golden State's small ball adjustment by going just as tiny with five perimeter players on the court at once. If this is the future of basketball, it was damn entertaining. The Warriors are built for this. The Cavs are built for anything because they have LeBron.
Curry's doing things in these finals that no one has ever done before and we've become almost numb to it at this point. Can he do it two more times? No one would be shocked, which is the ultimate measure of his greatness. To beat LeBron takes something special in its own right. It takes a player like Steph Curry going supernova in the fourth quarter, draining impossible shot after impossible shot.
"I thought he was great," James said. "You tip your hat off to a guy like that. He made seven threes. I don't know, were any of them not contested, hand in his face, falling, stepback off the dribble? I'm okay with that. We're okay with that. He's the best shooter in our league."
Curry was something else on this night and superlatives fail to do it justice. He staggered a bit as he made his way to the locker room following his press conference. Witnesses described him holding his head and feeling lightheaded. The Warriors said that he was dehydrated and expected to be fine for Game 6.
This series has been draining for everyone involved and it's reached a special place in the lore of this game, where tactical decisions are taken to extremes and great individual performances are stacked up against one another. We'll be talking about these finals for years to come, no matter who comes out on top. Game 5 belonged to Steph Curry. It was his signature moment and its soundtrack was the roar of a building that's become accustomed to these kind of things. Even they knew they were witnessing something unique as they roared and roared.
SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer has gone from novelty to necessary