Warriors-Kings: Stephen Curry Vs. The De’Aaron Fox duel delivers an instant classic, taking the series to epic levels.

Warriors-Kings: Stephen Curry Vs.  The De'Aaron Fox duel delivers an instant classic, taking the series to epic levels.

San Francisco — People often compare back-and-forth sporting events to heavyweight boxing matches, in which each behemoth takes his turn pounding the other into oblivion, only to see the opponent deliver their own punishment. But even that metaphor doesn’t do justice to Sunday’s tense, grueling Game 4 battle between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

“What a game,” Kings coach Mike Brown said afterward. “If I was a fan, shoot, what a game to watch.”

The closest approximation is probably the pirate ship ride at every amusement park or local fair. Once you’re inside, the ship starts rocking slowly in every direction, building momentum — like the 14 lead changes and six ties in the first half of Game 4. Then things finally take off, with a wooden ocean liner swinging aloft. The terror of falling sideways or off your seat forces your white-knuckled, sweat-drenched hands to cling desperately to the crossbar. Like when the Warriors opened up a 10-point lead with a devastating third quarter, capped by a spectacular Klay Thompson corner 3-pointer.

When you reach the top on one side, however, you know that things must eventually succumb to gravity and swing the other way. To start the fourth quarter, the Kings took a quick, surgical 15-4 lead with less than three minutes to play. What transpired from there can only be compared to the pirate completely falling off his tracks, his passengers and bystanders passing down the road screaming with equal parts terror and joy.

Perhaps the worst coaching challenge in NBA history from Steve Kerr left the Warriors with no timeouts in the game’s final two minutes. These things often come back to bite you, and Steph Curry, possessor of a genius-level basketball IQ, had a momentary lapse in judgment with 42 seconds left, giving Chris Webber company and earning a technical foul. His team didn’t have the timeout calling.

Tech not only gave Sacramento a free throw, but also a possession in which De’Aaron Fox knocked down a pull-up 3-pointer to cut the lead to one point. Curry’s missed shot at the other end gave the Kings the ball back with 10 seconds left, but Harrison Barnes’ final 3-point attempt bounced off the rim, allowing the trembling Chase Center crowd to exhale momentarily as Golden State escaped with an ugly, yet rousing victory. .

They got off the pirate ship alive, and that’s all that matters.

“If this was a regular season game, you probably walk away and you’re a little upset and you’re like, man, it should never have been this hard,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said after the win. “But it’s not. It’s the playoffs, and every game counts. Whether we win and control the end or we have to fight to win it like we did today, you get a win and you move on.”

The instant classic featured terrific and timely performances up and down the roster, but the main characters — the stars that took the game, and the series, from the great to the epic — were Curry and Fox, who showed their uncanny talent in the fourth. -Quarter tête-à-tête.

After the Kings quickly erased a 10-point deficit to give themselves a one-point lead with nine minutes left in the game, Curry went to work, scoring seven of the Warriors’ next eight points to give them breathing room. His first basket was pure determination — a straight line drive layup that oozed alpha energy and gave the Warriors a lead they would never relinquish.

Then, a devastating off-rhythm, head-fake jumper with his toe on the 3-point line seized back momentum and forced Sacramento to call a timeout in a futile attempt to subdue center Madhouse.

Next, with 7:25 left, he took a low pass from Green off his ankles, and knocked down a 29-foot 3-pointer in one move to extend the lead.

“He has ultimate command of our team and the floor,” Warriors center Kevon Looney said of his longtime teammate Curry. “So he knows when we were struggling and they had momentum, and he decided to take some buckets and get us back to where we needed to go. That’s why he is what he is.”

Against many teams, that would be the end of the story. But Sacramento has its own slight-of-frame hero who became the NBA’s first-ever clutch Player of the Year. Starting at the six-minute mark, Fox scored seven straight points via an assortment of free throws, pull-up jumpers and floaters. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, capped by a late 3-pointer that tested the structural integrity of Warriors fans’ cardiovascular systems.

“I think he’s kind of improved from the regular season to now,” Kings rookie Keegan Murray said of Game 4 after Fox. “Just shows he can be a superstar in this league. He made tough baskets and kept us. In it.”

It was only fitting that the final play of the game came down to two stars – one on one. Fox caught the ball in the backcourt and purposefully hunted down Curry, getting a screen from Barnes. Fox attempted a crossover, but Curry forced him to change direction, where he received help from Green. With no choice but to make a decent play out of a double-team, Fox handed it off to Barnes, whose miss spoiled an incredible game-winner and story against his former team.

“We know Fox can make shots,” Green said after the game. “That Clutch won Player of the Year. What I’m not doing is giving him an iso with someone and just watching him work and live with him. We are not going to live with it. We know that. Someone else has to beat you.”

It’s the ultimate sign of respect that the Warriors would risk taking an open shot from an 11-year veteran and 37 percent career 3-point shooter rather than let Fox take a game-winning jumper. Whether it was a question after his brilliant, potential All-NBA regular season, Fox proved in his first playoff appearance that he deserves a place in the pantheon of today’s top stars.

Game 4 was much more than the two superstar guards, but Curry finished with 32 points on 5-for-11 3-point shooting, while Fox put up 38 points and nine rebounds. With everyone finding out what the defense is giving them during the series, it’s pretty nerve-wracking to imagine what they’ll have in store for us in Game 5 of what turned out to be one of the most entertaining NBA playoff series in recent memory.

Best of all, both Curry and Fox are such dynamic scorers that each can strike at any time without advanced warning.

“I’m always looking for my shot, just because there’s always a double-team or a trap or a lot of attention. So just because I’m not shooting doesn’t mean I’m inactive,” Curry said after the game. 4 wins. “It just means you’re reading the defense to make the right plays and move the ball, receive attention or double teams and find open shots for other guys.

“But the more you do over the course of 48, the harder the saves are going to be and maybe I’ll get some spots. And then you always have to be ready and confident that you can knock down those shots.”

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