OAKLAND – With all due respect to the matchup between All-Stars Klay Thompson and James Harden, there is no better battle within a Warriors-Rockets game than that between Stephen Curry and Patrick Beverley.
Game 1 of the first-round series between the teams arrives Saturday, bringing with it a fascinating study of a player (Curry) who wants to turn every game into a picnic only to have a gnat (Beverley) constantly buzzing about his face.
Curry is by far the better player. He’s the reigning MVP and a lock to win it again after leading the NBA in scoring and steals while joining the ultra-exclusive 50-45-90 Club, where only the super-elite shooters are allowed.
No defender, however, irritates Curry more than Beverley, the pugnacious guard who may be the peskiest player in the league.
“He’s relentless, really,” Curry said after practice Friday. “He sometimes tries to pick me up full court. He always likes to keep a hand on you. You always have to be assertive with what you’re doing. You can’t really play around with the ball in front of him, or dance with it too much.”
Being a pest is the Beverley way, and even his teammates acknowledge this.
“Even on the bus,” veteran guard Jason Terry said. “It doesn’t even matter where. It’s just his personality. He’s a fun-loving guy, but he’s always going to get underneath your skin.”
There are moments when Beverley crawls under Curry’s skin and frustrates the league’s best player. There also are moments when Beverley gets brushed aside or is abused by Curry’s array of dribbling tricks and moves.
Curry and Beverley are friendly competitors, their relationship going back nearly a decade, when they were teammates in international play at the U-19 level. Curry is two inches taller and four months older than the Chicago-born Rockets guard.
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But there is no pretense of friendship on the court. Bumping and clutching and going nose-to-nose, Beverley seems to summer extra intensity when defending Curry.
“He likes to try to bait you into certain spots on the floor or take you out of your offense with his pressure,” Curry said. “I just try not to let it affect me. Just continue to run the offense, and we’ll get good shots.”
Which leads to the salient question as the teams prepare to open their series: Can Beverley stop Curry? Here’s Thompson’s answer:
“No,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can, to be honest.”