For the Warriors to win Steph Curry needs to “drive the bus” because the supporting cast isn’t enough to lean on

The Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals because when Stephen Curry takes his seat, they have been just fine.

Sure, they lose a step here and there. But, generally, the ball was in Jordan Poole’s hands. Klay Thompson was free to hunt for shots and find a rhythm. Players like Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica made enough timely plays on either end. And Draymond Green, the defensive anchor and vocal leader, made sure it all worked.

For most of the season, and well into these playoffs, that was enough. For up to six minutes, coach Steve Kerr and his superstar could be patient and confident while Curry sat with a towel over his head. The “others,” as Shaquille O’Neal calls them, could be counted on to hold it down.

But after Game 1, that doesn’t seem to be so sure a bet. Not against this Boston defense. Not when the Celtics are countering with Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown on the court at all times.

This new reality — and requisite urgency — was highlighted by Curry following the Warriors’ epic fourth-quarter collapse that led to a 120-108 loss to Boston. All season, he’s trusted the rotation patterns, put his faith in his teammates to come through and took advantage of the rest. But now, sitting on the sidelines for too long won’t cut it.

This is the best defense the Warriors have faced in these playoffs. The Celtics’ resistance is configured ideally against the Golden State’s attack.

Golden State felt some of this against Memphis. But there were weak points to attack. There were smaller defenders who could be overpowered. The Grizzlies had some defensive deficiencies eventually surface. But Boston is a relentless bunch. They punish finesse. Beating them requires a responding certainty, a strength to lean on against theirs. The Warriors don’t have many options to go against that. So they’ll need more Curry.

Curry can’t just show up in the first like he did in Game 1, exploding for 21 right out the gate. He and the Warriors can not afford for Curry to disappear for any amount of time when on the floor. Those scoreless minutes down the stretch where the Celtics went on that 17-0 run was directly linked to Curry fading from the spotlight.

Moments like that feed into the narratives that Curry is a front runner, and isn’t capable of being that guy to carry a team to a championship when it’s a level playing field.

Fair or not, that is the criticism that will be spewed thought out these Finals when Curry doesn’t show up.

It takes great offense to beat great defense. It takes exceptionalism to discombobulate this Boston. And what was clear from Game 1 is that Curry is the Warriors’ lone disruptor. He torched Boston in the first quarter, punishing the Celtics’ drop coverage and the space they gave him to the tune of 21 first-quarter points. Normally, that’s enough to loosen up a defense. But the Warriors let off the gas a couple of times Thursday, and it cost them.

Now they’re facing a must-win game on Sunday. They can convince themselves they still have home-court advantage considering they always win a road game in a series. But losing two home games to start a series is a hole that may be too deep for them to climb.

“Well, it’s never fun and it hurts on the biggest stage, obviously,” Thompson said. “But like Draymond said, there’s no reason to panic. I like our chances still, and we’ll go home and we’ll digest what happened. I know we’ll be better Game 2.”

The urgency is turned up. The Warriors can no longer wait for things to fall apart to adjust. They can’t steal as many minutes and hang on passively. They can’t afford to keep two non-shooters on the floor for too long.

Against Boston, settling only feeds them. The Celtics are bullies on defense.

The best response to aggressiveness is aggression.

When Curry played all 12 minutes of the first and third quarters, giving the Celtics no break, the Warriors scored 28 and 38 points, respectively. Curry took 17 shots in those two quarters, and the open looks abounded for the Warriors. Porter took advantage, making his first four 3s. In the third quarter, Wiggins capitalized, scoring 13 points as the Warriors built their 15-point lead.

Golden State only scored 22 points in the second quarter and 16 in the fourth quarter. It’s not a coincidence Curry took a total of eight shots in those two quarters.

It’s not just that Curry starts those quarters on the bench. Even when he returns, he has to work himself back into rhythm, which puts the onus on his teammates to be the creators, the aggressors.

But Poole has been bothered by physicality all postseason, and good rim protection thwarts his drives. He isn’t the same potent creator yet against these stout defenses. He was 2-for-7 with nine points and four turnovers.

And Green doesn’t have quite the advantage against these long and athletic Celtics defenders. When he’s getting the rebound and pushing it in transition, he’s not getting the separation he did against other teams. Boston tracked him down in Game 1, meeting him at the rim. He was 2-for-12.

And Thompson is being forced off the 3-point line — sometimes being pushed way out past it — by the Celtics’ pressure. It’s forcing him to create his own shots and dribble to spots, which has proven to be suboptimal for Thompson throughout these playoffs. He was 3-for-7 inside the arc and the same behind it.

Curry is the lone driving force for this incarnation of Warriors basketball. They will go as he goes.

The Warriors don’t just need more Curry; they need him constantly putting pressure on Boston. The attention he draws, especially after the Celtics got a dose of what happens when they don’t ring the alarm with him, is the crack in the door the other Warriors need on offense. If they are playing against a straight-up Boston defense, advantage Celtics. But if they are playing against a Boston defense reacting to Curry, advantage Warriors.

“They have got good size and athleticism at every position, pretty much,” Kerr said. “They put a lot of pressure on you. But I thought we had some really good moments. We had 38 in the third quarter. We had a good run there. It was mainly the fourth quarter that got us. So we feel confident with our ability to score against them.”

The blueprint to beat the Celtics was laid in previous series. Greatness gives them problems. Greatness with support beats them. In the Eastern Conference finals, Miami’s Jimmy Butler put constant pressure on Boston’s defense. He just didn’t have much help. When he wasn’t on, the Heat didn’t have much of a chance.

In the East semifinals, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo breaking down the defense to set up his teammates. When Jrue Holiday was productive, Milwaukee won.

The Celtics’ six losses this postseason have come at the hands of superstar performances. Antetokounmpo and Holiday averaged a combined 52 shots in the three Milwaukee wins. Two of Miami’s three wins over Boston came when Butler launched 41 and 47 shots, respectively.

When the Warriors’ offense did not have Curry attacking, it simply wasn’t as potent. Curry was scorching in the first quarter. But he sat for the first six minutes of the second quarter and took just one shot over the first seven minutes. And by the time he took it, the Warriors’ lead was down to two. His hot start was squandered as Boston went to the half with a lead.

The beginning of the end came with Curry sitting to start the fourth. He sat the first 2:25. That’s all it took for the Warriors to lose control of the game and ultimately home-court advantage in the series.

Certainly, we’ve seen the Warriors’ offense sputter with Curry. He’s not above turnovers or missing shots. But Thursday, he was elite and the Warriors needed more of him. Maybe starting him in the fourth, and having him attack, was the move when Boston signaled it was going for one last push by starting the quarter with its best five.

The other option is for Poole to find his footing. That’s certainly possible. It just doesn’t feel plausible how these playoffs have gone. If that changes, it would be a huge boon for the Warriors.

Until then, book Curry for 40 minutes and up. His greatness is the Warriors’ best medicine for the migraine that is the Celtics.

If the Warriors are going to win, it will be because of Curry. The legacy is right there, he just needs to reach out and secure it like all the greats do.

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