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Stephen Curry’s Clutch Performance Leads Warriors to Key Victory, Making Strong Case for Player of the Year

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Stephen Curry might have effectively clinched Clutch Player of the Year in Portland.

Stephen Curry trudged to the sideline with just over five minutes left in Thursday’s critical late-season matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, hardly hiding his frustration. The Golden State Warriors superstar repeatedly shook his head as he sat down on the bench and play resumed, clearly exasperated by Steve Kerr’s decision to give him a quick breather as crunch-time commenced.

Fortunately for the Warriors, Blazers coach Chauncey Billups ensured Curry’s blow was even shorter than initially planned, calling timeout mere seconds after the two-time MVP was taken out of the game. A refreshed Curry was back on the floor for the ensuing possession, staking a forceful claim for Clutch Player of the Year while leading the shorthanded Dubs to a crucial 100-92 victory.

Defense played a critical role in the Warriors overcoming a rough all-around performance in Portland. The rebuilding Blazers were missing several impact rotation players on Thursday, a reality laid bare as Golden State buckled down defensively when it mattered most, holding Billups’ team without a field goal for a whopping six-and-a-half minute stretch of the fourth quarter.

“Kind of a rough, choppy game. Obviously I was missing shots all over the place,” Curry said afterwards. “They have a lineup that we understand their situation, so we know they’re gonna play hard, play with energy, disrupt everything we’re doing, and for the most part if worked for 42 minutes. Then we just got really disciplined down the stretch.”

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Forgive Curry for his typical modesty. It wasn’t just Kevon Looney owning the glass, Brandin Podziemski’s dogged defense on Scoot Henderson or a team-wide commitment to shrinking the floor that prompted Golden State’s late-game dominance. Curry’s singular offensive exploits were at least as big a driving force behind that development, rescuing the Dubs from a supremely disappointing loss.

Here’s what Curry did immediately after that brief substitution just before crunch-time. Was there any doubt this right-wing triple was dropping once he sprang free off Looney’s screen in post-split ‘gaggle’ action, taking advantage of DeAndre Ayton’s drop defense?

Curry took matters into his own hands even further on Golden State’s next trip down, using three separate screens from Looney to finally find him for an easy finish in empty-corner pick-and-roll.

Curry finished with eight points and three assists in the final stanza on 3-of-5 shooting. His left-wing three with just under eight minutes left ended a troubling Warriors drought, pulling them within three points of Portland as the game appeared to be slipping away. All of his assists went for layups, the result of the Blazers sending multiple defenders to stop him.

It wasn’t Curry’s most productive nor jaw-dropping fourth quarter performance in a season full of them. Still, there’s no denying that Golden State doesn’t leave Rip City with a victory—keeping its hopes of earning the eighth seed in the West alive—absent more crunch-time brilliance from the greatest player in franchise history.

“Steph’s done that a million times, so it never surprises you. Obviously it wasn’t his best shooting night, but made some big ones down the stretch and competed really well,” Steve Kerr said on the postgame podium. “We played him more than we wanted to, but we got it done and now we’ve got a chance to go play New Orleans tomorrow and get a win and put ourselves in a pretty good spot.”

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Stephen Curry burnishes Clutch Player of the Year resumé

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket during the first half against Portland Trail Blazers forward Kris Murray (8) at Moda Center
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Curry entered Thursday’s game as the clear favorite to take home Clutch Player of the Year in 2023-24, sporting -150 odds to win the award, per FanDuel. DeMar DeRozan is the only other player in realistic competition for the honor as Vegas sees it, his odds at +110. No one else in basketball has better odds than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s +2900.

It’s not hard to see why Curry seemed a shoo-in to win the Jerry West Trophy even before what transpired at Moda Center.

His 189 points in the clutch leads the league, per NBA.com/stats. His 32 made threes in the last five minutes of close games are more than double the amount of any other player’s, and he’s shooting a scorching 47.1% on those looks. Only Joel Embiid has a higher usage percentage in the clutch than Curry’s 40.3. Among the 28 high-minute players with a usage percentage above 31.0, his ridiculous 70.0 true shooting percentage ranks first.

Curry is well past the point of measuring success in individual accolades. Other than Finals MVP, no further personal recognition will matter to a player who’s already cemented himself among the sport’s true all-time greats.

When it comes to his place in the NBA’s historic individual hierarchy, though, winning Clutch Player of the Year at the ripe old age of 36 could indeed help separate Curry from other basketball legends—not to mention make Golden State an increasingly tough out no matter how or where the Warriors begin the postseason.

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“He should win it. Yeah, he should win Clutch Player of the Year for sure,” Podziemski said of Curry. “Obviously De’Aaron [Fox] won it last year, and I Steph has surpassed what he did last year this year. He’s our go-to guy in the clutch, he makes clutch shots. It’d be crazy if we could get the clutch Steph Curry for 48 minutes. But yeah, I think he should win it. He’s the best in the league when it comes to the under six-minute mark.”

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