Opinion: Steph Curry sees what it’s like to play without All-Stars surrounding him

OAKLAND — Whatever LeBron James is doing these days during the first NBA Finals he’s missed since 2010, it’s enticing to envision him kicking up his feet somewhere in a Los Angeles mansion watching the proceedings Wednesday night with a big glass of red wine in hand and one thought kicking around his mind.

Not so easy, is it Steph? 

The washed-up remains of an NBA roster that we will technically call the Golden State Warriors lost Game 3 at Oracle Arena, 123-109, which was really the only result that made sense under the circumstances. 

What it means from here in this most unusual series, which the Toronto Raptors now lead 2-1, is anyone’s guess. Over the next few days, the Warriors could get Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant back in the lineup and be completely fine against a Raptors team that still doesn’t act like it should be trusted. Or they might not and lose the series in five. Who knows. 

But if nothing else, watching Steph Curry try to pull this off should bring one thing into crystal-clear focus for the crowd that likes to peddle the nonsense that a player’s greatness is proportional to their record in NBA Finals. Context matters. 

With 47 PTS tonight, Stephen Curry becomes the ninth player in @NBAHistory to score 45+ PTS in a #NBAFinals game, joining
Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, LeBron James, Michael Jordan (3x), Jerry West (3x) Bob Pettit, Allen Iverson, and Wilt Chamberlain. pic.twitter.com/BRC9zas07A

It matters for Curry, who took the whole thing on his back but couldn’t quite drag Golden State over the finish line. And it matters for James, whose 3-6 record in the NBA Finals is routinely wielded against against him as evidence that he’s not a closer or not as good as Michael Jordan or whatever the television yell-fest narrative of the day is. 

As Curry played a flat-out spectacular game Wednesday, scoring 47 points, it was impossible not to think about how the tables had turned from 2015 when the Warriors won their first title. By the time James and the Cavaliers arrived at that series, Kevin Love had been lost to a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving, who had been struggling with injuries for much of the playoffs, was ruled out after Game 1 with a fractured kneecap.

That left James to play it out with a cast of characters that somewhat resembled what the Warriors were able to put around Curry in Game 3. But whereas Golden State still had Draymond Green, the Cavs’ second-leading scorer in that series was none other than Timofey Mozgov.

The point is, it’s a tricky thing to tie an all-time great player’s legacy to the NBA Finals, isn’t it? 

Steph Curry was the center of attention for the Raptors defense in Game 3. (Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)

After 82 games and a marathon playoffs that leaves so many rosters held together with Popsicle sticks and duct tape, it’s clear that which bodies are available matters a lot. 

“We’ve been on both ends of this,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “We have had injuries in the past, our opponents have had injuries. So you don’t make any excuses. You go out there and see what you can do, and you relish the opportunity and the challenge because before you know it you're retired and you wish you could go back and do it all over again.” 

And even now, the Warriors aren’t out of chances. Through three games, the Raptors have not exactly looked like the 2014 San Antonio Spurs reincarnated. They’ve simply had more good players ready to go. For now, that’s the series.

We’ve learned a few things along the way: That the Warriors can’t really count on DeMarcus Cousins to replicate the energy he brought in Game 2 (Marc Gasol more or less dominated him Wednesday), that Kevon Looney will be missed for the rest of this series and that they badly need Thompson as a linchpin on defense so that Green doesn't have to spend a lot of time guarding Kawhi Leonard. 

Still, this wasn’t a blowout until the very end. It was more or less a 10-point game with 10 minutes left, and there were moments throughout where it seemed like Curry might make it even more of a chore than that for the Raptors to close out the win. 

But even a great player isn’t going to do it all by himself in the NBA Finals. Not Curry. Not James. Not even Michael Jordan, who never lost one in six tries but never had to attempt it without Scottie Pippen. 

Curry’s legacy isn’t going to change one bit if the Warriors lose this series. It was admirable enough that he was able to put some pressure on the Raptors to finish off a game they couldn’t afford to lose and perhaps plant some doubt going forward no matter who does or doesn’t come back. And it was really fun to see him throw up shot after shot and perform so spectacularly with all the defensive attention on him

But every superstar, no matter how brilliant, needs some legitimate help once they get to this point. LeBron can probably relate. 

Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.

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