CLEVELAND -- Slander.
That's what Draymond Green called it, and to make sure we heard him correctly, someone asked, "Slander?"
"Slander," he repeated.
He was referring to the criticism of two-time MVP Stephen Curry over the 48 hours between Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals -- the most crucial stretch of any series, when the difference between a two-game lead and a tied series is a chasm wider than any other in sports.
Enveloping the slander, as Green put it, was a cocoon of facts. Curry, who averaged 30.1 points per game and broke his own record with 402 3-pointers during the regular season, had yet to score 20 points in any of the first three games. He wasn't himself. Part of it was him, and part of it was the defensive job that the Cleveland Cavaliers were doing on the NBA's most electrifying player.
And so the questions started to bombard Curry, about when the real MVP would show up in these Finals. They were legitimate questions, and and in Game 4 Friday night, they were answered.
"I'm not surprised by the way he played tonight," Klay Thompson told CBS Sports on the way to the team bus after the defending champion Warriors beat the Cavaliers 108-97 behind a 38-point outburst from the MVP. The Warriors took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with the potential clincher Monday night at Oracle Arena.
"That's what we expect of him every night," Thompson said. "That's how talented he is. I expected him to have a big game, man. All the chatter, the NBA Finals, all that, with the huge spotlight, everything's going to be over-analyzed. But Steph never panics, man. Probably the most composed athlete I've ever been around."
Curry never flinched over the previous 48 hours, Thompson said. And he didn't flinch Friday night, when another subpar performance could've forced the Warriors to make a return trip to Cleveland that they desperately want to avoid.
"He was just himself," Thompson told CBS Sports. "The usual Steph. Nothing really bothers that man. He's so strong-willed and such an intelligent player. He knew what he had to do to be better."
What he had to do was gird himself for the physical pounding that was coming again from the Cavs' defense, and play through it. What he had to do was be more aggressive, make quicker decisions and use drives to the basket and his teammates to loosen up the defense and create the space that had been so fleeting in the first three games.
"When I had the ball in my hands, I had to be assertive and decisive with what I was doing," said Curry, who was 11 for 25 -- 7 for 13 from 3-point range -- with only three turnovers after coughing up 15 in the first three games. "Early in the game, there were driving lanes, and instead of settling, we just tried to attack and be on the downhill as opposed to allowing them to get into us."
The Cavaliers had gotten into Curry's body in the first three games, but not his head. For the first time in the series, the Splash Brothers showed up. Thompson had 25 points on only 14 shots, going 4 for 9 from 3-point range.
"I mean," coach Steve Kerr said, "sooner or later, that's going to happen."
As good as Curry and Thompson were in Game 4, though, they needed everyone. They needed a hard-nosed defensive game from Green, who tussled with LeBron James in the fourth quarter; timely baskets from Harrison Barnes (14 points, 4-for-5 on 3-pointers); solid screens from Andrew Bogut; the defensive craftiness of Andre Iguodala.
But mostly, they needed Curry to be Curry. And he was.
"All the stuff that's been going on the last few days was my first clue," Green said. "All the slander. ... He's a competitor, and he's been under a heavy microscope. And rightfully so. Two-time MVP? You're expected to have great games in the Finals. He struggled the first three, but tonight, he was that guy."
The Warriors were the Warriors again, too, setting a Finals record with 17 3-pointers on 36 attempts.
"He's Steph Curry," Kerr said. "He's the MVP for a reason. He doesn't have the size and strength to dominate a game physically, so he has to dominate with his skill. And that's not easy to do, because sometimes your shot isn't going in."
They went in on Friday night, a barrage from Curry that caused the Cavs' defense to become unglued.
"We made some mistakes and he made us pay for them," James said. "He made us pay every time we made a mistake defensively."
Things got heated down the stretch, with James, who is clearly getting very frustrated, and Green getting tangled up and exchanging some choice words -- a little too choice for James' taste. Green also took a shot at James' crotch as the players came untangled. My guess is a technical upgrade for Green is coming from the league office on Saturday; it was called a double-personal on the floor.
"Draymond just said something that I don't agree with," James said. "I'm cool with the competition. I'm all fine with that, but some of the words that came out of his mouth were a little bit overboard. And being a guy with pride, a guy with three kids and a family, some things go overboard and that's where he took it."
Green's take: "When you're going at someone and they're going at you, it's time to man up. I enjoy that. That's always fun for me."
James and Curry got chippy on a late inbounds play and exchanged words, too, but both of them shrugged it off after the game; just two MVPs competing.
They'll do it at least one more time, on Monday night in Oakland, where the Warriors will try to close out James and the Cavs for the second straight year.
"He realized we were still up 2-1 and it felt like the world was crashing down," Thompson said of Curry, on the long walk down the hallway under the stands at Quicken Loans Arena. "So he's not going to get too high right now. He's going to lead on Monday. He's going to lead."