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By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer

BOSTON — It was a routine step-back 3-pointer, albeit his second in a row. It gave the Warriors a five-point lead. It came with 2:03 left in the first quarter. Nothing about this sequence, and when it occurred, suggested it was of special significance.

Still, after watching his swish, and after the Celtics called a timeout, Steph Curry had something to say. He walked away from the Warriors’ bench, all the way to the other end of the court. Yelling. Flexing. Taunting. On the baseline near the Boston bench, he roared into the sea of green and white, as if he wanted to tremble their souls. They say a tiger’s roar is strong enough to paralyze its prey. Curry usually saves his demonstrative displays for the big moments, when the opponent is vanquished. But this night, in the early stages of this must-win game for the Warriors, he wasn’t celebrating a conquest. He was prepping it.

He pointed to the hallowed hardwood beneath his feet and declared the reality the Celtics are facing. They would have to deal with an all-time great this night. All night.

“He wasn’t letting us lose,” Draymond Green said.

That he did not. Curry scored 43 points on 14-for-26 shooting with 10 rebounds in a 107-97 win in Game 4. A Curry Classic on Causeway. He snatched home-court advantage from the clutches of the Celtics. Boston had a chance to take a commanding lead. But Curry flexed, and the Warriors head home for Game 5 with a chance to take control of the series.

Curry’s had some big NBA Finals games before, contrary to popular narratives. In 2015, he scored 17 of his 37 in the fourth quarter of a pivotal Game 5, going bucket-for-bucket with LeBron James to take control of the series. In 2016, Game 4 on the road in Cleveland, with the wear and tear of his sprained knee taking its toll, Curry scored 24 of his 38 in the second half to put the Warriors up 3-1 in the series. He totaled 47 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Game 3 of the 2019 finals despite facing a box-and-one defense from the Raptors while Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were sidelined with injuries. Two games later, Curry finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a huge Game 5 win in Toronto to keep the Warriors alive.

But what happened Friday night was a performance that vaults his legend. He left even his harshest critics with frayed vocal cords. Beneath the 17 championship banners hanging in the rafters of TD Garden, on the parquet floor graced by legends like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, Curry showed the basketball world he is, indeed, him.

“The heart on that man is incredible,” Thompson said.

Game 4 was the flashy exhibit often necessary for proper acclaim. It was the type of monster performance expected from players of his ilk. But this game was but another episode in his legacy of winning. Coming out on top so often commands a grittiness, requires a hero’s resolve. His superpower is shooting, but his greatest strength is his will to win.

His 43-point night was born of one of his greatest attributes. Sure, it was a clinic of shooting and ballhandling, but such were secondary. The star was his indomitable will, a frame that belies his toughness. His resilience cannot be understated. His entire story is a case study in determination. Friday night was the latest example of his disregard for odds.

You want to know why the Warriors have now won a road game in 27 consecutive series? Wardell Stephen Curry II. The Warriors have now won 39 road playoff games in the Curry era. He’s scored at least 30 points in 20 of them.

“I don’t rank my performances,” Curry said. “Just win the game.”

Nothing reveals fortitude in the NBA like winning on the road. And Boston’s intimidating venue requires a tenacious spirit. The Celtics fans had been cussin’ out Green for two games. They shouted spicy speech at Thompson, too, after he called them “rude” and threw shade at their classiness. A retort was required. So the 6-foot-3 fella from Davidson played the role of big brother leading the Warriors through the proverbial alley, darkened by Celtics’ vitriol. He yelled back at them. And when the crowd started spewing profanity his way, he responded with big baskets and scoring spurts.

Remember, he did this two days after a 6-foot-9, 240-pound man fell on his left foot, setting off another injury watch as the world waited to see if he was hurt.

Curry can’t stand when his health becomes the storyline, a complex born of his ankle troubles early in his years. But, in hindsight, his sore left foot tipped his hand. He was determined to play and not to talk about his foot. He wanted all doubt about Game 4 on Boston’s side of the aisle.

“I could tell in his demeanor the last couple days,” Green said, “even after Game 3, that he was going to come out with that type of fire.”

Remember, the Celtics offense is hunting him. Curry can’t hide and rest on defense.

He has been the defender on 52 Boston field goal attempts in this series, per NBA Stats. More than Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Opponents are shooting 44.2 percent against Curry. After going 10-for-16 against foul-plagued Curry in Game 3, the Celtics were 4-for-11 when Curry defended in Game 4.

Remember, he did this against the No. 1 defense in the league — which is bigger and stronger at every position and plays with a physicality that breaches boundaries and breaks spirits.

Curry has seen just about every defense imaginable. He’s been face-guarded the length of the court, doubled 40 feet from the basket, trapped and blitzed. But the Celtics pose unique problems. Their smallest player is the 2022 Defensive Player of The Year, and he plays like his freedom is on the line. Smart is so good at what he does, and so consistently abrasive, he gets away with a lot of otherwise illegal contact. The entire Boston defense has picked up on that game plan — get into Curry, do whatever it takes to stay connected, even if that means holding when he’s off the ball and hand-checking when he’s on it. Plus, the Celtics have the advantage on Curry in girth, athleticism, strength and length. Yet he battles through it, like he would’ve had to if he’d played in his father’s day.

And look what he’s doing against this Celtics’ defense in this series: averaging 34.3 points on 50 percent shooting, including 25-of-51 from 3.

“Just stunning,” Steve Kerr said. “The physicality out there is, you know, pretty dramatic. I mean, Boston’s got obviously, the best defense in the league. Huge and powerful at every position. And for Steph to take that — that kind of pressure all game long and still be able to defend at the other end when they are coming at him shows you, I think, this is the strongest physically he’s ever been in his career, and it’s allowing him to do what he’s doing.”

Another big third quarter, his favorite, put the Warriors in position to come out of New England with renewed life.

He came off a screen going to his right and drilled a three over Derrick White from the right wing, cutting the Celtics’ lead to three. He came off another screen going left, firing before Robert Williams III could react and before White could recover. The Celtics’ lead was down to one. Going left off a Gary Payton II screen, he pulled up from 33 feet, suddenly enough for Jayson Tatum to run into the back of him. That one tied the game. Then, in a play that gets added to the highlight reel, he drove and dished to the corner, then relocated to that same corner, splashing another 3 to put the Warriors ahead by a point.

“We were there,” Smart said. “He made a lot of the shots where we were contesting from behind. We had somebody there and he was just making them. That’s what he does.”

This put Kerr in a tough spot. Curry was at 31 minutes, 28 seconds at the start of the fourth quarter. He normally sits for the first six minutes of the quarter. That’s been cut to about four minutes in the playoffs. Last game, Kerr had to cut it to just over two. That’s because the Celtics have dominated the fourth quarters. In Game 1, they owned it 40-16. In Game 3, it was 23-11.

Curry was rolling, and the Warriors needed offense to stave off a pending Celtics rally. But Kerr stuck with his gut. He doesn’t like Curry over 40 minutes. There are diminishing returns. While the threat Curry is on the court is helpful, Kerr’s expertise on his superstar knows he is better with even a short rest. So he opened the fourth with Curry on the bench.

“He was not happy,” Kerr said. “I felt pretty good about where we were. The other night he played the whole fourth, and I didn’t love the way that quarter went, not because of how he played, but I think we were in a pretty good spot. You know, to buy him a few minutes in that fourth quarter to start, I think to me was important. But you never know how it all plays out. You just kind of go with your gut.”

The move didn’t doom the Warriors. Boston led by as many as five, but that only set up the cap to Curry’s historic night. The ball was in his hands. The Celtics defense was scattered. His presence put pressure on their offense to score. It all colluded to break Boston.

The Celtics led by two when Curry pushed it in transition. He drew three defenders, which left Thompson open for a 3 at the top. The Warriors took the lead for good. The next time down, Curry eluded Smart on a screen and danced with Williams on the perimeter. A series of crossovers led to an easy 12-foot floater.

Then with just inside of two minutes left, Green led a fast break. He got stopped at about the free throw line. But he knew exactly where to go. All the attention was on him, as he had the ball. It was enough for Curry to get free from White for a split second. He stepped into a Green bounce pass, gave a little jab and ratted home the dagger 3.

Then, after the Celtics called a timeout, their hopes crushed and facing the reality of a long series, it was finally time to celebrate the conquest. He flexed. He pounded his chest. He taunted. Curry waded into the mystique of the Celtics — as did Kobe before him, and Magic Johnson, and Dr. J — and made the kind of statement legends make. He is him.

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By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer

The black stage erected to elevate the Warriors’ return to championship glory was crowded with executives, coaches and players, and several children. Front and center were Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — where they belonged as cornerstones of this dynasty. Andrew Wiggins, the championship newbie, stood behind them with the reserves and rookies, only too happy to soak in the scene while his friends got the shine.

Then ABC’s Lisa Salters, doing interviews on the stage, called Wiggins’ name, and the stage erupted again. That smile of his, the one Curry regards as a rainbow indicating good times for the Warriors, was beaming. It had been seven years of questions about his heart, criticism about the lack of fire in his belly. Yet, here he was, with the Larry O’Brien in his arms, the gleam in his eye reflected in the gold trophy, and a grin wider than Canadian bacon. The stage was now his.

Perhaps Wiggins’ most resounding accomplishment over the first eight years of his career was keeping his profile low. In the shadows. He is a former No. 1 overall pick and forever linked with LeBron James. He was the face of a whole franchise and he averages nearly 20 points per game for his career. Yet, he exists in relative anonymity. In an era of social media saturation and athlete branding, Wiggins has managed to build a persona as a mystery man. He’s done so effectively enough to be labeled as one without a personality. Apathetic became his brand. Dispassionate was the default attribute assigned to him.

But bright lights have a way of revealing what was hidden. In basketball, nothing shines brighter than the spotlight of the finals. There is nowhere to hide. Not only would he be exposed if he floated as he was known to do in Minnesota, but he couldn’t remain in obscurity. Figuratively and literally, being on the NBA Finals stage brought more of Wiggins into view. Shadows grow scarce when playing alongside legends and cresting the NBA mountain. Figuratively, balling on this mega platform revealed elements to his game once missing — consistent defensive excellence, a killer instinct, a hunger for winning. Literally, on that stage, Wiggins’ heart was revealed.

Her name is Amyah. She turns 4 in October.

“Those two,” Draymond Green said of Wiggins and Amyah, smiling as he raised a pair of crossed fingers, “they’re like that.”

Suddenly, it made sense how Wiggins endured the criticism that followed the five-year, $147.7 million maximum contract extension with Minnesota in 2017. It was clear how he could handle a reputation for indifference and being labeled a disappointment: the perspective of fatherhood.

You don’t have to talk to Wiggins long to know he doesn’t like how he was perceived in Minnesota. That max deal came with expectations he never met with the Timberwolves. But it’s clear he believes the player the world witnessed in this postseason is the player he’s always been, just his role and his teammates are different.

Wiggins never spent much time trying to debunk conclusions made about him. You won’t find him on social media defending his own honor or championing himself. He pays no mind to the opinions of those outside a very tight inner circle. If a fan, a writer, even a coach or a teammate not in his circle of trust takes a shot at him, he doesn’t flinch. It helped when, in October 2018, Wiggins got a new context for success and failure, for greatness and mediocrity. He prioritized the judgment of Amyah’s diamond eyes staring back at him. That perspective was squared when his girlfriend, Mychal Johnson, gave birth to the couple’s second child, Alayah, in April 2021.

While Salters was interviewing the Warriors’ two-way star, Amyah made a beeline for daddy. Jordan Poole lifted her from the parquet onto the stage. The twinkle in Wiggins’ eye told it all.

“This is what I do it for, you know? Family,” Wiggins said. “So I’m glad she got the chance to experience it. When she’s older, I can be like, ‘You were here.’ There are pictures and everything. So I’m excited. This is a dream come true.”

It was approaching 2 a.m. in Boston. The players’ journey that began in the champagne showers of the locker room and winded through a media maze on the court ended at a makeshift photo studio in the belly of TD Garden. That’s where the champions and their family members took pictures with the trophy.

Reclined in a chair, with one leg crossed over the other, was another proud dad. Mitchell Wiggins.

Just over 36 years before Wiggins had his career performance, with 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5 against the Celtics, his dad had a big Game 5 of his own. The elder Wiggins put up 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Houston in the 1986 NBA Finals, helping the Rockets stave off elimination at The Summit. But Andrew wasn’t there. He was nine years from being born.

That’s what made this season, reaching this pinnacle, so special for Wiggins’ pops. His oldest sons were babies when his career ended. He was playing overseas in Europe, his best years coming in the Greek league, when his children were first picking up basketballs. He knows what it’s like to wish your children saw you live in your prime.

“It means something,” said Wiggins’ dad, who was drafted No. 23 in the 1983 draft out of Florida State and played six NBA seasons. “His youngest one is at the house back in San Francisco. She’s 1. I told him it’s very important to have her at the parade. Because, you know, once you instill it in their blood, and they see it in their eyes, the atmosphere and everything, it becomes part of them.”

Dad also knows something about reclamation. While his son bounced backed from a bust label, Mitchell Wiggins had to rebuild his career after a two-year suspension for substance abuse. The NBA’s drug issues in the ’70s and early ’80s led to a new agreement between the players union and the league in 1983. Michael Ray Richardson, then a star for the New Jersey Nets, was the first player banned under the drug policy. When Rockets teammates Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd, both 27 at the time — the same age as Andrew Wiggins now — tested positive for cocaine in 1987, the late David Stern banned both players. They weren’t allowed to apply for reinstatement until 1989.

Not only did Mitchell have to get clean and get his life back, he also had to rebuild his reputation. He returned to Houston for the 1989 season, started 52 games and averaged career-highs in points (15.5) and minutes (28.1). The Rockets made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. He didn’t play much as the Lakers swept Houston. But he set the precedent for the growth and digging deeper that has defined Wiggins’ tenure with the Warriors. His dad’s story is also a window into why Wiggins’ self-esteem didn’t erode with his favor.

In the Wiggins’ household, living a good, clean life means something more. His teammates adore him because they came to see his character up close instead of the caricature formerly presented. He never reaches for attention, never bellyaches about getting more shots. He has been a prodigy since he was in junior high school, and yet he wants more than anything to be just one of the guys.

“I can speak for myself personally,” Poole said. “We’re similar in a lot of ways, just kind of do our own thing. We’re, like, closed off. We know how to, like, talk to people and communicate when needed. But he’s just selfless. He wants to see other people succeed, and he’s genuinely a good person. Has good morals. Lives life the right way.”

The biggest sign of the person Wiggins keeps tucked behind the velvet rope, an indicator of why he’s found such favor in Golden State, is most evident in his undeniable bond with his daughters.

No matter how bad things got in Minnesota — and there were five general managers and four head coaches in his 5 1/2 seasons — Wiggins would play the game, say his piece and then walk out of the locker room to find Amyah waiting for him. That was all he needed to put a smile on his face, as he cradled her in his arms and strolled to his car. He was often seen carrying Amyah after games this season. After Game 4, she went viral in his arms, her immaculate one-tooth-missing grin glowing brighter than the gold chains on her neck, which dangled over a t-shirt featuring her dad’s dunk over Luka Dončić.

When the finals were over, Wiggins could be found with her on his hip during interviews, knocking his championship cap off his head.

“Everybody realized the talent he had early on, the athletic talent,” his father said. “But the biggest thing that me and his mom are proud of is the man and the son that he became. He’s a father that adores his kids, like I adore my kids. When I see him with his girls, his eyes light up. As a father, that’s when I’m most proud.”

To Amyah, he’s never been a disappointment. To Alayah, he’s always come through. And he’s not done producing.

“I’ma keep swinging for the boy,” he said, flashing that grin again. “I’ma get one eventually. You feel me?”

The journey is especially sweet with them being here for it. Wiggins said the value of their presence is understood as one who didn’t get to see his father’s NBA career up close. His success, he said, is their success.

That was never more clear as Poole lifted Amyah on that stage. This, too, whether she remembers it or not, is her journey.

While he’s been an elite player most of his basketball life, lofty expectations strapped to his shoulders, Wiggins never clamored for the pedestal he was put on in Minnesota, at Kansas, or as a coveted prospect dubbed “the Maple Jordan” coming out of Canada. The attention that comes with the pedestal isn’t his vibe. He likes the background. He likes the simplicity of hoop and home.

But the stage, that he can get used to, for sure. The stage is bigger. There’s room for more people to share the bright lights with him. More room for his daughter to run around, too. Those are two of the eyes he most cares about.

When Amyah’s white shoes landed on the stage, in her blue No. 22 jersey, before she went to her dad, she walked into the embrace of Draymond Green’s son, D.J. His big sister, Olive, wrapped the two littles in a bear hug.

Wiggins smiled and clapped as he hovered over their cuteness. What we’ve come to learn about him is this part of the journey matters as much as the title and the reputation-altering performance. In this moment, he wasn’t the X-factor who helped deliver a championship. He wasn’t the youngster LeBron James didn’t want or the underwhelming centerpiece of whom the Timberwolves grew weary.

He was just a dad. And there was no hiding it.

By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer

Most people leave home to chase their dreams. Juan Toscano-Anderson left Oakland and went to Milwaukee and Monterrey, Mexico, in pursuit of his. Rare is the man who comes home to make his dream come true.

“I got a championship with my hometown team,” JTA, the first player of Mexican descent to win an NBA title, said in a phone interview Wednesday night.

“I’m stamped in the Town. I’m stamped in my country. That shit can’t nobody take from me. You’ve got to give a little to get a little. And I gave up playing time to, you know, become a legend. I’m a legend in the Town. I’m a legend in Mexico. And I’m not saying that myself. It’s showing, know what I mean?”

It was time for the legend to go, and to the Los Angeles Lakers he is headed, agreeing Thursday to a one-year deal. Not just because the Warriors declined to extend him a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. The writing has been on the wall for a while. He’s 29 years old and three of the five youngsters the Warriors have selected in the last three drafts play his positions.

It’s time for him to go because even dreams have transitions. Toscano-Anderson is worthy of more than a sentimental spot on the end of the bench. His reward for reaching this level, for his role in the Warriors’ resurrection from 15-50 to champions, is the chance to pursue a spot in a rotation.

He’ll get that chance with the Lakers. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and new coach Darvin Ham could use a champion as they seek to return the Lakers to glory. They want to benefit from the same hustle that got him to the NBA from Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional, from the same whatever-it-takes mentality that earned him the respect of Hall of Famers.

The Lakers get in Juan T., as his teammates call him, a player who can defend multiple positions. Who can play like a big man and also run an offense off the bench. Who contributes positively to a locker room and is beloved up and down the roster.

His offense, already considered his weakness, took a dip this year. But in 2020-21, when he was in the rotation and seeing regular minutes, he shot 57.9 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3. He performs better when he gets the space to play into a rhythm.

The Warriors’ adding Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica cut into Toscano-Anderson’s minutes this season. His reduced role relegated him to spot minutes. He fell out of the rotation as the season progressed.

Not only did he never complain, he kept his energy positive on the bench. He found fulfillment in cheering for and supporting his teammates. He volunteered wisdom accrued on his journey to help nurture the young players who would replace him. And he was always ready to defend the superstars in a blink.

Did he want to play more? Of course. Did he think he could help the Warriors on the court? Absolutely.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “some of those things are out of my control. I ain’t gon’ say I was unhappy about it. I know that I’m better than that. But it is what it is. It’s the way the cards fell. And, you know, I’m lucky to have a job, man. Gratitude. That’s what I wake up and remind myself of every day. Just be grateful that I have a job.”

Bitterness and gratitude can’t occupy the same space. So while he’s competitive and wanted to be on the floor, especially in the epic NBA Finals, Toscano-Anderson was too thankful — “forever thankful” — to sour the ride. Even at 26 years old at the time, the Warriors gave him a shot. They traded Terrence Jones, a former first-round pick, to open up a G League spot. They believed in Toscano-Anderson’s talent and groomed it. They not only recognized the intangibles that make him valuable, they rewarded him for it with minutes.

Five years ago, none of this was possible. But now he has a tattoo of a Larry O’Brien trophy on his left forearm and a ring on the way. And $2.4 million in career earnings.