Programming note: Coverage of Game 6 between the Warriors and Clippers begins Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (Channel locations)
OAKLAND -- Every time Stephen Curry steps on the court, it's with a purpose. The Warriors point guard wants to make a statement about who he is, what he is capable of doing and how difficult it is for opponents to stop him.
This is why his postseason matchup with Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been so delicious.
Down three games to two, the Warriors must win Game 6 Thursday at Oracle Arena and Game 7 Saturday at Staples Center to take the series. The winner of the Curry-Paul battle will be determined only by whose team advances.
"It's very competitive," Curry said Wednesday. "I understand that he's established himself, that if there's a conversation about the best point guard, his name is always in there. And I hope that my name is in there, too. That's the game within the game.
"But this is bigger than that. There's no minor victory if I outplay him and we lose. It's all about winning the games. If we get this series, it would mean a lot more."
If the Warriors are to win their first-round series with the Clippers, it’s a given that Curry will lead the way. Their best performance through five games was in Game 4 last Sunday, which also was his best performance.
"I know we're best when he's aggressive," power forward David Lee said.
"We need him to be aggressive," coach Mark Jackson said. "We need him to make great decisions. And we need him to be better with the basketball. He knows it. I've got total confidence. I'm not worried about Steph Curry. At all."
If L.A. wins, much of the praise will go to big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Only if the Clippers lose will eyes turn to Paul, the nine-year veteran and undisputed team leader.
Paul, after all, is fully established, a seven-time All-Star who has played in 45 playoff games. He turns 30 next week. He's in the prime of his prime.
Curry, by contrast, is merely cracking the door to his prime.
Yet he's waging a ferocious , personal battle. Through five games, Curry and Paul have similar numbers. Curry is averaging 20.8 points per game, Paul 18.2. Each has precisely 41 assists, 8.2 per game. Curry is averaging 4.4 turnovers, Paul 3.8.
What seems odd, though, is that Curry has the higher overall shooting percentage (46.7 to 41.7) while Paul has been more accurate from 3-point distance (48.3 percent to 40.5). Curry is the noted bomber.
Except for the Warriors being at a one-game deficit, it has been a fairly even bout. Which speaks highly of Curry, given the amount of attention the Clippers have devoted to him as well as the general consensus that Paul is the better defender.
"We need him to be aggressive and score the ball," Lee said of his teammate. "And they're doing everything they can, putting multiple guys on him, to keep him from doing that."
The scoring is the difference, because it's the element Curry must provide that Paul need not. When Curry scores as he did in Game 4, with 33 points, it creates holes in the L.A. defense. That plays into Curry at his best, scoring but also getting open shots for his teammates, particularly guard Klay Thompson and wing Andre Iguodala.
When Curry struggles to score, or even to get shots – he was limited to 10 attempts in Game 5 – the Warriors look constricted and vulnerable on offense. Curry surely is, and it results in turnovers. He had eight in Game 5, when the Clippers seemed to anticipate many of his passes.
"I've just got to be one step ahead," Curry said. "That's the game within the game, adjustments and having the IQ to know your opponent. We feel that we know what their go-tos are and tendencies from player to player. We've gotten more comfortable with that as the series goes along. You've got to expect that they're doing the same.
"You've just got to make plays. There's no secret. There's no special formula. It's just I've got to be able to make plays."
This series, then, is as much about Curry learning as it is about his team winning.
Except Curry is not yet ready to see it that way.