At his best, Stephen Curry is the world’s most entertaining basketball player. He operates the offense with a magician’s sleight of hand and sinks 3-pointers from 30 feet with a quick flick of the wrist.
Now we are seeing him at his worst.
Curry’s disappearing act is the biggest mystery of the NBA Finals. The league’s two-time Most Valuable Player is proving he’s not infallible by airballing jumpers and committing turnovers in bunches.
His magic is missing, probably because of ankle and knee injuries that sidelined him early in the playoffs, and the Golden State Warriors suddenly have reason to worry.
“It looks like Curry is dealing with issues. He’s just not himself,” Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said. “His injuries might be worse than we thought.”
Just when the masses thought the Cleveland Cavaliers could go out quietly and maybe get swept, the tone of the series changed dramatically Wednesday. Three days after losing by 33 points, the Cavaliers won by 30 and closed their deficit to 2-1 with a bold Game 3 statement.
It’s all a reminder the NBA is Bizarro World, where results are often opposite of expectations. Just when it appeared the Warriors had a death grip on the championship, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green fell asleep at the wheel.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith brought the Cavaliers back from the dead by playing with the control and passion they rarely displayed in the two blowout losses on the road. James scored 32 points, Irving 30 and Smith 20 in the 120-90 victory in Cleveland.
Curry finished with 19 points, but that number is a lie. He had two points in the first half and did most of his scoring after the outcome had become obvious. Curry has more turnovers (15) than made 3s (10) in the series.
“Curry has got to show he’s the MVP,” SportsXradio.com handicapper Ken Thomson said. “It has not happened so far in the first three games. We’re waiting for that.”
It’s not all on Curry, though. Thompson, who saved the Warriors’ season by hitting 11 3s in a Game 6 comeback win at Oklahoma City on May 28, went 1-for-7 from deep Wednesday. Green also turned in his worst performance of the postseason.
How does this type of turnaround happen? It’s human nature for the team with the 2-0 lead to relax on its cushion and for the team in the 0-2 hole to come out breathing fire on its home floor. The Cavaliers won by riding an emotional wave — not because of any strategic adjustment by coach Tyronn Lue — and LeBron led the way from the start.
The unlucky guy in all of this is Kevin Love, who was sidelined with a concussion. After a 30-point win, it appears Cleveland does not need Love, although the result would have been similar with or without him on the floor.
“It was such a good spot,” Sherman said. “You know what you’re getting out of that emotional spot. That must-win game is out of the way, but I’m going to take the same assessments into the next game. Cleveland is so much better at home, and the Warriors have struggled on the road. I think the Cavs will win the next game.”
Cleveland is a 2-point favorite in Game 4 on Friday, when the series will either get reduced to a best-of-3 or swing the Warriors’ way for certain. Golden State is not going to drop both of its remaining home games.
The Warriors are minus-500 favorites to win the series, down from a high price of 10-1 after Sunday night’s blowout. If the Cavs win the next game, the series will return to its original price of Golden State minus-200.
“Maybe the Cavs have an answer,” Thomson said, “and Curry is just not playing well.”
Or maybe this is simply going to be a series of home-court domination. The Warriors have lost back-to-back games only once all season, and that was when they were blown out by 28 and 24 points in Games 3 and 4 at Oklahoma City. Cleveland is 8-0 at home in the playoffs.
Who wins it all? I’m changing my stance like a politician. My initial prediction of Cleveland in seven that looked foolish early this week now feels somewhat realistic. I did bet on the Cavaliers in Game 3, and I lean that way again in Game 4.
“I said this scenario would happen, so I’m going to stay on Golden State,” Thomson said. “I did say Golden State will win Games 4 and 5. I think the Warriors will find a way to win. I’ll take my shot. There’s a reason the Warriors are the best team in basketball.”
Golden State’s setback Wednesday did determine one significant proposition — its total for losses in the postseason was set at 5½, and the Warriors fell to 14-6.
“I would like to see Cleveland win the next game to make it an interesting series going forward,” Sherman said.
Maybe it’s not the mismatch it appeared after two games, and the series will go seven. What’s certain is the Warriors need more from Curry. He announced he’s backing out of this summer’s Rio Olympics to rest his knee and recover. If he’s also concerned about the threat of the Zika virus in Brazil, who could blame him?
But the truth is likely that injuries are taking a toll and sapping his magic touch.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow on Twitter: @mattyoumans247
(Best-of-7; x-if necessary)
Golden State 2, Cleveland 1
June 2: Golden State 104, Cleveland 89
Sunday: Golden State 110, Cleveland 77
Wednesday: Cleveland 120, Golden State 90
Friday: Golden State at Cleveland, 6 p.m.
Monday: Cleveland at Golden State, 6 p.m.
x-Thursday: Golden State at Cleveland, 6 p.m.
x-June 19: Cleveland at Golden State, 5 p.m.