Steph Curry showed up to the NBA Finals just in time

Jun 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter in game four of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter in game four of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Stephen Curry struggled in the first three games of the NBA Finals. He finally showed up in Game 4 when the Warriors needed him the most.

When you’re a 2x MVP and the league’s first ever unanimous Most Valuable Player, expectations will be sky-high on the biggest stage.

Through three games, Stephen Curry had not lived up to them. He wasn’t even close to them. Three straight times, he took the floor and looked absolutely lost, save for the third quarter in Game 3. He wasn’t shooting the ball well, he made poor decisions with the ball in his hands, and he was struggling to defend Cleveland’s guards.

The criticism for Curry was deserved, but very odd. Experts and fans were questioning the validity of his unanimous MVP selection, a regular season award given to the best player over the course of 82 games. Other criticism included “outrage” over the lack of criticism for Curry, especially compared to what LeBron James would receive.

Even the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith got in on the action, claiming that both James and Russell Westbrook deserved the MVP award over Curry.

Despite the convoluted ways in which critics were coming out of the woodworks to disparage Curry, they were, at their core, correct. He was awful. He failed to reach 20 points in all three of the series’ first games and had 15 turnovers to 13 assists. In Game 3, he was outplayed by Kyrie Irving who exploded in the first quarter, helping Cleveland build a lead that they wouldn’t give up.

The Warriors survived despite Curry’s poor play, building a 2-1 lead, blowing the Cavaliers out in two straight games. After Irving’s third game eruption and Cleveland’s thirty point victory, it was clear that the Eastern Conference Champions would not go down without a fight. It was also clear that, if the Warriors were going to win their second consecutive title, they would need Curry to return to MVP form.

With the world watching and waiting, Curry delivered.

He scored 38 points, dished out 6 assists, and grabbed 5 rebounds. He made 7 three-pointers and made more free throws in Game 4 than he did through the first three games combined. Every time the Cavaliers started to gain a little bit of momentum, Curry found a way to get through the defense to find the open man or, once he got going, knock down the open threes that weren’t falling before.

It was the only possible response for the best player in the world.

Curry outplayed James and he knows it. Towards the end of the game, the two got tangled up as Golden State tried to inbound it in to their best free throw shooter being defended by James. They were grabbing and pushing each other. They had some words for each other and Curry looked surprised at what the Cavaliers’ superstar had to say.

After so many questioned his toughness, Curry didn’t back down from the biggest monolith the game has to offer.

Steph Curry got his swagger back. He was hitting some of the ridiculous shots we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. He was moving like the greatest player in basketball again, both in his full sprint across the court towards screens and his celebratory marches following big Golden State plays.

He shut everyone up. From Smith to experts to fans, they all just had to watch greatness take over the game. The only thing Curry couldn’t do on Friday night was erase everyone’s memory of the all white shoes that Under Armour released. You know which ones I’m talking about.

After the first game of the series, Shaun Livingston was probably atop most Finals MVP leaderboards. After Game 2, Draymond Green was the clear-cut favorite. Meanwhile, Iguodala has been right in the thick of it, both with his work in running the Warriors’ offense and shutting down James on the defensive end.

Curry, at minimum, was an afterthought in the Finals MVP race, a casualty of other members of the greatest team of all-time stepping up. In its most reactionary and “hot take-y” form, Curry was a joke. A 2x MVP, unanimously selected the second time, that would win his second ring without sniffing a Finals MVP. For those that actually believe the award means something, this would be confirmation of Curry’s premature crowning, an objective piece of evidence that his name doesn’t belong with other greats.

Now he’s thrust himself back in the conversation. In a wacky series with three blowouts and different players contributing in so many ways, the chase for the Finals MVP is wide open. When Curry plays at home in Oracle Arena, it sometimes feels as if the crowd wills some of his jaw-dropping threes through the hoop. If Curry can repeat his Game 4 performance on Monday, he’ll have his first Bill Russell Trophy as well.

Great players don’t stay down for long. Steph Curry, regardless of era, is great. Despite some of the numbers suggesting otherwise, Curry was atrocious in the first three games of the series. Narratives were building, but he silenced them with a huge road performance in Game 4. The Warriors now lead 3-1 and head home.

Curry may still be slowed down by his knee injury that he sustained against the Houston Rockets in the first round, but he’s back. Even at less than 100 percent, he’s still better than most of the NBA. It’s important to note, though. that Curry doesn’t care about the individual accolades. He said that he isn’t going for LeBron James’ throne or playing for the Finals MVP, he just wants the ring.

And because of his performance all season long and in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Steph Curry is just 48 minutes away from his second one in as many years.