OAKLAND, Calif. – Stephen Curry was early in his career, a long way from even thinking about the NBA Finals.
His Golden State Warriors were in Cleveland, where LeBron James powered one of the best teams in the league. Curry thinks the Warriors lost the game (they did, one of their 56 losses his rookie season) but certainly remembers the chat.
James, already the best player in the game, pulled Curry aside leaving the court and told him to focus on his own effort, ignore any distractions around him, make sure he was always prepared.
“There is going to be a time when it’s all going to work out because you’ll be ready for that moment,” Curry said Wednesday of James’ message.
And now, it might happen against James.
The next chat between the superstars could be tonight at center court, before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Curry is now the NBA’s MVP and the Warriors, no longer the lowly laughingstock from his rookie season, won a league-best 67 games during the regular season. They have lost three times at Oracle Arena all season, but that doesn’t faze James as he tries to end Cleveland’s 51-year pro sports title drought in his first season back there.
“I’ve been in so many loud arenas. This is going to be one of them,” he said. “I’ve played in OKC in the (2012) finals to start off the series. I’ve played in Boston. I’ve played in Detroit when they were in their heyday. I’ve played in Chicago in 2011 to open up the Eastern Conference finals. I’ve played in San Antonio.
“So I’ve been in some very loud buildings and this, obviously, I know tomorrow is going to be one of them. But I don’t add too much pressure on it. You just go out and you just try to play.”
He has done that superbly in this postseason, averaging 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He has played better basketball – he brought up the 2009 East finals loss against Orlando, a month before Curry was drafted – but the steady hand he has provided with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving hurting has made James as good as he’s ever been.
“For me as leader of the team, it’s my job to lead the guys and to perform well,” James said. “At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, that’s all I can ask out of myself and ask out of my guys, and we’ll do that.”
His finals experience – he’s the first to play in five straight finals since Bill Russell’s Celtics of the 1960s – is one advantage for the Cavs against a Warriors team with no players who have played for the championship. Warriors rookie coach Steve Kerr, who won five titles as a player, said he and assistant Luke Walton have talked to the team about what to expect now.
“But what I really found as a player was once you get out on the floor, you just start playing and everything returns to normal,” Kerr said. “It’s still just a basketball game. But you’ve got to get to that point and the best way to do that is to try to ignore the chaos as much as you can.”
For Curry, keeping things normal Wednesday meant a haircut and some sun by his pool. And he knows James will be prepared, just as he once instructed Curry.
“He’s a gamer,” Curry said. “You know he’s going to ready for big moments.”
Other things to watch in the NBA Finals:
Irving, who missed two games in the East finals with knee and foot injuries, plans to play, while realizing he won’t be at his best.
“It’s an adjustment, but it’s what it is,” he said. “But I’m just going to go out there and will myself to play.”
Kerr played 3 1/2 seasons in Cleveland and will try to join Phil Jackson, whose Lakers beat the Nets in 2002, as the only coaches to beat a team they played for in the finals. He understands why it hasn’t been a desired destination for players, saying, “Let’s face it, it’s cold,” but said he enjoyed the experience.
Been there, done that
Though also in his first year as an NBA coach, David Blatt has reminded reporters all season that he’s no rookie after his long, successful career overseas. The coach of 2014 Euroleague champion Maccabi Tel Aviv repeated that message, saying he didn’t “find this at all imposing.”
“So it’s thrilling and it’s exciting, and it’s joyful to be in this situation,” he added. “Is it all unusual or uncomfortable for me? No. I’ve been in situations like this before many times.”
Golden State’s Klay Thompson wasn’t cleared to play until Tuesday after suffering a concussion in Game 5 of the West finals, but never feared missing the opener.
“I had some nagging headaches that night, but when I got some good sleep and some good rest I was all right,” he said. “So I really knew that Game 1 was never in jeopardy.”
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