OAKLAND, Calif. -- Everyone wondered what was going to break Steph Curry out of his slump. Maybe his finger would heal. Maybe he'd get a pep talk from a loved one. Maybe the Rockets' defense would ease up just enough to let him get on a roll.
Turns out, all Curry needed was a time machine.
The palpable buzz that permeated Oracle Arena had completely evaporated. As Kevin Durant limped toward the locker room after a non-contact injury led to a right calf strain late in the third quarter, fans were left in a state of confusion, anxiety and despair. The Warriors were left without perhaps the best player in the league -- certainly the best player this postseason -- and the guy they'd relied upon over and over when the offense was stagnant, as it was in the third quarter when the Rockets mounted their comeback.
After a piping-hot first half, Klay Thompson had gone cold. Curry was suffering through another substandard game, which had become all too familiar during the Warriors' second-round matchup with the Rockets. Durant injury concerns aside, the team had to focus on where, and how they were going to get buckets.
DeMarcus Cousins, who knows a thing or two about devastating injuries, kept the team focused on the game. Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston -- elder statesmen who have been through it all during this Warriors dynasty -- went into player/coach mode. But on the court was a different story. The Rockets had trimmed the Warriors' 20-point lead to three and gained the momentum when Durant headed to the locker room. Less than a minute later, the shell-shocked Warriors had given up the lead.
That's when Steve Kerr noticed a change in Curry. Just before Durant went out, Curry had missed a layup and a wide-open 3-pointer, which Curry called "the lowest point of the game for me." After the Rockets took the lead, Curry responded with a floater and a layup to put the Warriors back on top and lay the groundwork for a phenomenal individual fourth quarter.
"I think you saw Steph go into a different mode when Kevin went out," Kerr said after the Warriors' 104-99 Game 5 win. "He knew he had to be the offensive fulcrum. He knew things were going to run through him. He took over that fourth quarter. It wasn't a great night for him until that point. He was brilliant in the fourth when we absolutely needed it."
If Curry's resurgence looked familiar, it's because you've seen it before. It dates back to the PKD years -- pre-Kevin Durant -- when, if you'll recall, Curry was a back-to-back MVP as the unquestioned focal point of the Golden State offense. The fourth quarter of Wednesday's Game 5 win saw Curry take back the reins and channel his old self. It was apparently just what he needed to get out of his funk.
"Steph just went into a different mindset," Kerr said. "Kind of reminded me of four, five years ago before we had Kevin, we were heavily dependent on Steph generating a lot of our offense back then. He doesn't have as big of a burden on his shoulders now. He's fully capable of taking that burden when necessary. Tonight it was necessary in the fourth quarter."
Curry scored 12 of his 25 points in that fourth quarter, going 2-for-3 from 3-point range and knocking down all four of his free throws. It was a stark reminder of the player that Curry can be, the one that we've seen only bits and pieces of during this Houston series. It also shows us just how much he has sacrificed since Durant joined the team.
"We have certain play calls that we call just for KD, to get him into the right spots to take advantage of different mismatches and get him into his sweet spots," Curry said after the game. "Those play calls may go away, but the main identity of who we are offensively is moving the ball, moving bodies, try to create good looks with regular motion offense, things like that."
After an MRI on Thursday,against the Rockets, and if the Warriors advance, he could miss time in the Western Conference Finals as well. Obviously the Warriors would't have wanted it to happen this way, but if Durant's injury woke up the old, hibernating Steph Curry, we all might be in for a treat. It's just a matter of whether it will be enough to beat Houston.
"We trust the man. I think everybody in the world trusts him with the ball in his hands," Thompson said of Curry after the game. "His track record has proven it, he's going to come up in the clutch. ... That's just the kind of competitor he is. He'll do anything to win."