NEW YORK • During the second quarter of what would eventually be a humbling 30-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, the first unanimous Most Valuable Player in National Basketball Association history, found himself on the bench.
He was not there to rest, or to recover from an injury, but simply because he was playing poorly and the team needed to try something else to compete.
Curry's coach Steve Kerr tried to cover for his star after the game, claiming he just had something he wanted to talk to his point guard about, but Curry left no ambiguity as to the motivation for his benching, which was truly unusual for a player of his standing.
"I would have done the same thing," said the 28-year-old, who had two points and three fouls in the first half. "He was trying to get us some life and figure out a way to get me going."
He finished with an un-MVP-like line of 19 points, three assists, six turnovers and four fouls. Other than a few brief moments in the second half, he barely made a dent against a relentless Cavs defence.
It was Curry's ninth Finals series game. And it was the ninth time he failed to dominate. In a series in which LeBron James has nearly averaged a triple-double but was scrutinised after Game 2 for not taking over games more, Curry has yet to score 20 points in a game.
Golden State star Stephen Curry's 22.7 points per NBA Finals game over two seasons (nine games) is more than seven points lower than his average this regular season.
He has had trouble hitting shots, trouble with fouls, trouble with turnovers and seemed positively human after a season in which he seemingly scored at will, regardless of who was covering him or how far away he was from the basket.
Kerr, who learnt the power of brevity in his years with coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, summed up the performance, saying: "He didn't play well."
In many ways, the struggles to make a dent in the Finals go back to last season.
Curry's teams have won six of the nine Finals games he has played over the past two seasons, and even with Wednesday's loss, the Warriors appear to be in the driver's seat for back-to-back titles.
But he has yet to have a signature game. He has scored more than 30 points just once in the Finals - a 37-point performance in Game 5 last season - and his two-year average of 22.7 points a game is more than seven points a game lower than what he averaged per game this season.
Curry acknowledged Cleveland's effort in the 120-90 Game 3 thrashing, but took the blame for his performance.
"Unfortunately it was all me," he said. "They were playing aggressive defence and they came out with a big punch, and I didn't do anything about it or play my game.
"For me to do what I need to do to help my team, I have to play a hundred times better than I did."
Many say the Curry era has eclipsed the James era. It will be interesting to see if the kind of pressure James endures begins to surround Curry, not only to win games and titles but also to provide jaw-dropping performances rather than just well-fought games, in which his team win with depth and strategy.
While James has rejected the notion that he had to be like Michael Jordan or anyone else to help his team, he then went out and had a 32-point, 11-rebound, six-assist game, bringing an energy to his team that had been dormant since the Eastern Conference Finals.
Curry is capable of having a similar impact on a game, as evidenced by his record-breaking 17-point overtime outburst in Game 4 of the semi-final series against Portland.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that pressure was mounting for him to play to his capabilities heading into today's Game 4 in Cleveland.
"There's a sense of urgency knowing how big Game 4 is," he said. "I need to be ready." NEW YORK TIMES
Game 4: Cleveland v Golden State
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