Stephen Curry caught the inbound pass with 5.1 seconds on the clock in a tie game. Since Kevin Porter Jr. defended him tightly, he had to rip through from his right to his left hand.
Curry drove toward the free throw line, planted his right foot and launched himself backwards. Plenty of space.
There were 1.7 seconds left by the time the greatest shooter of all time gathered the ball to start his lightning quick release. Plenty of time.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player released the ball with 1.1 seconds left. His game-winning shot swished through with all zeroes showing, red LED lights bordering the glass backboard. Confetti fell from the Chase Center rafters. High-fives, hugs, hype, dancing and a water-bottle dousing followed.
Curry’s pure step-back to beat the buzzer gave the Warriors a 105-103 win on Friday. It was the first walk-off buzzer beater of his career.
“It’s a different feeling when it’s a walk-off,” Curry said postgame. “It’s nice to know what that feels like, finally.”
His first instinct after dropping his accentuated follow-through was to make his way to the home team tunnel and celebrate with his teammates in Golden State’s locker room. Only that wasn’t an option. Curry needed to stay on the court for live postgame interviews. That’s life as an NBA superstar.
To ensure Curry fulfilled his media obligations, Raymond Ridder, the Warriors’ senior vice president of communications, wrapped his arm around Curry’s body. The nudge prevented Curry from running any further off the court. It wasn’t exactly a tackle, but director of public relations Brett Winkler was in on the stop, too.
Curry made the play of the game, but Ridder and Winkler saved the day.
“I didn’t realize (it was my first walk-off) until Raymond and Brett played the best defense of the night trying not to let me go through the tunnel,” Curry said postgame.
Curry insisted he would’ve ran into the tunnel — “Oh, absolutely,” he said. When asked if Ridder, roughly 5-foot-7 and 145-pounds, was too imposing a force to overcome, Curry said he knew the long-time PR pro had backup.
“It usually takes a double team to stop Steph Curry,” Ridder told KNBR in the media room.
When there’s a potential game-winning shot for the Warriors, Ridder and Winkler’s main objective is to ensure whoever hits the big shot is available as soon as possible for an interview with the team’s TV partner, NBC Sports Bay Area. Their best practice is to assume position by the tunnel and form a human barricade, supported by security staffers just in case.
With Curry, it worked. Ridder and Winkler kept him on the court, where he jumped around with his teammates in celebration. He was on-time for his postgame interview with NBC, during which he let out a scream.
Just one night before Curry’s historic step-back, Ridder and Winkler stationed themselves in front of the tunnel again. The Warriors had a chance to beat the Pacers in regulation, inbounding with the same 5.1 seconds remaining. But Juan Toscano-Anderson missed the potential game-winning layup in traffic, and instead of celebrating on the court, the Warriors fell to Indiana in overtime. Ridder and Winkler’s nights proceeded body check-less.
In Ridder’s 24 years with Golden State, there have only been six or seven walk-off game-winners at home, he said.
Golden State’s most recent buzzer beater winner before Friday came on Jan. 3, 2014 against the Hawks, when Andre Iguodala hit a 3 at the horn. That time, Ridder tried a different technique, putting his fists together and sticking his elbows out. He fared better against the smaller Curry.
“He actually leveled me,” Ridder said of Iguodala. “Threw me aside as he ran off the floor. He actually made it all the way back to the locker room.”
It was the only time Ridder can recall a player escaping after a game-winner. And Curry knew the history. Friday’s game-winning moment actually started to sink in for Curry when he found himself bouncing off Ridder.
“It’s been seven years since they’ve been tested like that, and they failed last time with Andre in Atlanta,” Curry said. “They weren’t going to let that happen again. That’s when I realized and kind of came to.”