'It's going to be epic': Stephen Curry and LeBron James face off -- again

ByRamona Shelburne ESPN logo
Monday, May 1, 2023

SACRAMENTO -- At some point, it will be someone else's time. One of the young teams that tries to dethrone the Golden State Warriors will break through. One of the defensive stoppers assigned to bottle up Stephen Curry will actually do it. An agitator will do more than poke the bear that is LeBron James.

But not yet.

Not after Curry scored 50 points to lead the Warriors to a 120-100 win against the No. 3-seeded Sacramento Kings in Game 7 of their wildly entertaining first-round series Sunday afternoon.

Not after James led the Los Angeles Lakers to a resounding 40-point win against the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies to wrap up their first-round series 4-2 on Friday night.

Not in the next two weeks, when the superstars who have defined the past two decades in the NBA meet for another clash beginning Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, TNT) in San Francisco in the Western Conference semifinals. It is the first playoff meeting between L.A. and Golden State in 32 years, though the Warriors have played James four times in the NBA Finals over the past eight seasons, while he was with theCleveland Cavaliers.

"It's going to be epic," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "You got Steph, you got Bron doing it all over again."

All season, James -- who had the first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his playoff career in Game 4 against Memphis -- has been asked how he maintains such a high level of play at age 38.

All season, the Warriors have been asked whether this will be their so-called "Last Dance" together as their collective ages and extraordinary payroll bears down on them.

"But ... stop trying to turn the page on us so fast," Green said. "Stop trying to turn the page on Bron.

"We get so caught up in what's the next thing, we don't appreciate the current. Then you get to the next thing and you're looking back, like, 'Man, I wish we still had that. I wish we could still see this.'"

"So for me and our guys," Green continued, "we are going to appreciate this every step of the way."

Sunday's Game 7 clincher was something of an homage to everything that has made the Warriors' run over the past decade so compelling.

Curry's line will look like a typical monster game: 50 points, seven 3-pointers. But he did this one with his short game, amassing the most points in the paint (22) he has ever scored with a dizzying assortment of scoop shots, floaters and layups.

Those are the shots he looks to be goofing around with during pregame warmups. He'll float the ball up higher than he'd ever need to in a game, almost like a trick shot in HORSE.

"People think he's just having fun or showing off," said Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser, Curry's longtime warmup partner. "But he's always working on his short game. It's like [in golf]. We call it 'chipping and putting.'"

After the Warriors dropped a demoralizing Game 6 in San Francisco on Friday night, the coaching staff spent a long night with the game tape, trying to piece together what happened.

"I think [head coach] Steve [Kerr] stayed up until 2 a.m. and got two hours of sleep after that one," Fraser said.

Kerr has long preached balance in his decade at the helm of this team. Perspective. Take a breath and reset rather than reel and writhe. In this case, though, the quick, 36-hour turnaround between Games 6 and 7 left him little choice.

The best he could do was pull the all-nighter himself and change up the team's routine, getting his players a little sunshine and fresh air before going back to Sacramento for Game 7.

"We had a good film session on the ninth floor of Chase Center, which has an expansive view of the [San Francisco] Bay," said a smiling Kerr before the game. "Which may not sound like a big deal, but it kind of is. You get some sunshine, you look out at the Bay.

"I do think there has to be a sense of perspective -- even if it's just a nice view and some sunshine and a chance to breathe and relax in between games."

There wasn't time to splice in funny video clips to underscore a particular theme, as Kerr has done over the years. But there was a particular theme Kerr and his staff emphasized.

"The whole focus was on spacing," Kerr said. "Looking at the film [of Game 6], trying to figure out why there was no place to go. We were just cluttered."

That's what Curry found in the paint on Sunday: space.

And when he does that, he creates a gravitational pull for the rest of the team.

About the only place Curry missed Sunday was at the free throw line, clanking two of his five shots. But even there, he was able to work through it.

Rather than getting angry, Curry grinned after his misses from the line.

"Attitude can manifest a lot of things," Curry said. "I missed five free throws in the last two games. That's not like me. But never overthink it. Just enjoy the moment. So the smile was intentional. Just trying to be in the present. As simple as it is, I'm just trying to make a free throw ... so I try to have fun with it."

Curry's voice was a bit nasally after the game -- the result of allergies, he said, not illness.

"I should go get some local honey," he joked. "It's just this time of year."

Indeed it is.

Once again, the Warriors and Curry and the Lakers and James will dominate the NBA's stage during these playoffs that are now whittled down to the final eight teams.

"Here we are eight years later from the first time we met in a playoff series and still playing at that level," Green said. "That's special. Says a lot about who you are as a pro and how serious you take this. How you appreciate this game."

"You're talking about some ultimate competitors," Green continued. "LeBron is one of the ultimate competitors. Steph,Klay [Thompson], myself. And so to have these opportunities, we don't take for granted."

Related Video