CLEVELAND — The whistle already had blown and the play was over, but Stephen Curry tried to shoot a layup and LeBron James stuffed it.
None of it counted, but that play in Game 3 was symbolic of how the NBA Finals have gone for Curry: Nothing is coming easy.
The best shooter in the NBA hasn’t been hitting his shots through the first three games of the Finals. The two-time MVP has as many fouls as three-pointers (10) and almost as many turnovers (15) as field goals (17).
But before anyone puts out an APB on his whereabouts, Curry has no doubt that he’ll show up in this series. “We’re up 2-1 right now and the story is still unfolding,” he said before the Warriors practiced Thursday afternoon.
It’s been a strange series for the Warriors. Their All-Star backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson hasn’t played a good game, but even though the Splash Brothers have gone splat, Golden State can take a 3-1 series lead Friday night.
Curry is 17-for-39 with 48 points total and Thompson is 14-for-38 with 36 points. Neither has scored 20 in a game.
The law of averages says Curry and Thompson are due for a big night, and that doesn’t bode well for the Cavaliers. They lost the first two games by 48 points even though Curry and Thompson totaled only 55.
The past two seasons, Curry has been the NBA’s most unstoppable, most clutch and most popular player. But suddenly he is facing criticism for his disappearing act. He had a series-high 19 points Wednesday night, but the Cavaliers won, 120-90, so he basically was invisible again.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said none of it affects Curry. “One of the great things with Steph is he’s so grounded,” Kerr said. “He understands how this process works. If you are in the limelight and you’re the one doing the commercials and getting trophies, then you’re also in the crosshairs.
“We’re on the biggest stage and he’s had a couple of tough games, so the criticism will come and he’ll handle it fine.”
Look no further than the Western Conference finals. After the Warriors fell behind 3-1, Curry and Thompson lifted their games to bring the Warriors back. Curry averaged 32.7 points the last three games and Thompson averaged 29.7.
“That’s Steph,” Kerr said. “That’s who he is. He always responds. He’s got a huge heart, competitive as hell, and extremely talented. I know how he will respond. He’ll play well. He always does.”
The Cavs are being physical with Curry, running him off the three-point line and making sure defenders are connected to him. But Curry also is missing open looks, which is as uncharacteristic as the foul trouble he’s faced.
Curry said he let the foul trouble take him out of the last two games and that he wasn’t “as aggressive as I needed to be” in Game 3.
“It won’t be that in Game 4,” he said. “I’ve got to stay true to who I am and allow that to carry you through the good times and the Game 3s.”
Kerr seemed to get irritated by the many questions about Curry and Thompson and whether he is considering a lineup change. The Warriors won a record 73 regular-season games; Kerr believes they can win two more.
“They win a game, now it’s lineup changes and ‘Oh my God, Steph Curry can’t play well and what’s Klay going to do?’ ” Kerr said. “All this stuff about, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’ All we have to do is take stock. We’re up 2-1. We’re in pretty good shape. We haven’t played that well. Let’s play better.”