NCAA Football

Stephen Curry wins superstar battle, leading Warriors to Finals

May 30, 2016

An epic series that featured so much back and forth between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder ended with one last memorable battle.

It was Stephen Curry versus Kevin Durant in the final minutes, two of the world’s best players putting on a shotmaking display to try to nudge their respective teams into the NBA Finals.

Curry drove for layups and rose for three-pointers. Durant carried a Thunder comeback bid with seven consecutive points.

Ultimately, it was Curry and the Warriors who prevailed in a 96-88 victory in a breathless Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on Monday night at Oracle Arena.

Curry scored 15 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, celebrating in the final minute by putting the tail of his jersey into his mouth and triumphantly yelling as he stood and smiled near courtside fans who yelled along with him.

The defending champion Warriors will open the NBA Finals at home Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers after becoming the 10th team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit in a playoff series and the first since the Houston Rockets defeated the Clippers last season in the conference semifinals.

Golden State versus Cleveland will be a rematch of last year’s Finals, albeit with both teams essentially at full strength.

Klay Thompson added 21 points for the Warriors, who won in their first Game 7 home game in 40 years.

Durant finished with 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting and Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds for the Thunder, who were within 90-86 with 1:40 to play after a Durant pull-up jumper completed a run in which he scored all seven points.

But Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a three-point attempt with only a few seconds left on the shot clock. Curry made all three free throws, Durant missed his next two shots and Curry finished any lingering comeback hopes with a three-pointer with 26 seconds left.

The arena was festive after a third quarter in which the Warriors made five three-pointers and outscored the Thunder, 29-12. Curry twice sidestepped Steven Adams with a crossover dribble for a three-pointer and Shaun Livingston escalated the decibel level when he drove into an open lane for a dunk and was fouled by Ibaka.

Things got truly odd when sparingly used Golden State reserves Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa made huge plays toward the end of the third quarter. Barbosa made a floating jumper and Varejao took a charge on Westbrook, passed to Harrison Barnes for a three-pointer and made a finger-roll layup.

Golden State Coach Steve Kerr was in his usual light-hearted mood before the game when asked if he would move Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup after using Iguodala to start the third quarter in Game 6.

“I have made 11 alterations to the game plan, none of which I will share with you,” Kerr said with a smile. “Thanks for your question.”

Kerr wasn’t wholly joking because he started Iguodala instead of Barnes, a nod to Iguodala’s defense that happened to occur on Barnes’ birthday. That same switch led to three consecutive victories in the Finals last season that helped the Warriors close out Cleveland, and it kept Durant from making much of an impact early in the game Monday.

Durant did not take his first shot until midway through the first quarter. He took only three in the quarter. The Thunder were effective nevertheless behind a more team-oriented approach, taking a 35-22 lead early in the second quarter to deaden the crowd.

Enter Thompson, who had missed his first seven shots. He made three three-pointers to spark an 11-2 run by the Warriors that had the arena rocking again. Thompson finished the quarter with 12 points

The fans got even louder after Adams got tangled up with Warriors forward Draymond Green, both players tumbling to the court. Green held his head in anguish amid chants of “Throw him out!” directed at Adams, but the referees assessed fouls on both players.

The first half ended in a wild sequence. Ibaka blocked a driving layup by Curry, leading to a Russell Westbrook layup in which he was fouled. Westbrook made the free throw to complete the three-point play, but Curry raced down the court to bank in a layup high off the backboard over two defenders at the buzzer, pulling the Warriors to within 48-42.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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