By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — With his big-game swagger on display for the world and that signature mouthpiece dangling from a celebratory grin, Stephen Curry drove fearlessly to the basket with jaw-dropping acrobatics all afternoon and he fired with precision from way back in a Game 7 extravaganza for the ages.
He even playfully pretended to push the button and Light the Beam, Sacramento-style.
Curry scored a playoff career-high 50 points in the most prolific Game 7 performance ever and answered time and again to will the Warriors on in their quest for a repeat, sending Golden State into the Western Conference semifinals with a 120-100 win against the Sacramento Kings in Sunday’s winner-take-all Game 7.
Curry led a memorable comeback in the series, too, perhaps improbable even for the defending champions when they got down 2-0 and given their road woes all season.
“It’s amazing ‘cuz you’re still in the fight,” Curry said. “Better than the alternative of on the outside looking in. Having been down 0-2 in this series, nothing was guaranteed, you don’t take anything for granted.”
Curry’s points are the most in NBA history in a Game 7, topping former teammate Kevin Durant’s 48 for the Nets against Milwaukee in 2021.
“For Steph to be the first player ever to get 50 in a Game 7, he’s sublime,” coach Steve Kerr said.
Kevon Looney grabbed 21 rebounds for a Warriors team that needed to win twice on the road facing a hostile, cowbell-clanging crowd in the state capital to become the first reigning champion to drop the first two games and win any postseason series.
Now, bring on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals with all that NBA Finals history between James and Golden State dating to his Cleveland days. Game 1 is Tuesday night at Chase Center.
Sacramento’s special comeback season is over long before these young Kings had planned. After snapping a 16-year playoff drought — longest in NBA history — under Coach of the Year Mike Brown, playoff-starved Sacramento missed advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.
Curry shot 20 of 38 with seven 3s and delivered after almost every big play by Sacramento as Splash Brother Klay Thompson struggled on both ends again. But Thompson came through in some crucial moments.
“What an incredible performance,” Thompson said. “This is a Game 7 I’ll forever remember as the Steph Curry game.”
Malik Monk’s putback and three-point play with 14.6 seconds remaining in the third pulled Sacramento within six only for Thompson to hit a long 3 and convert a four-point play to make it 91-81 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Domantas Sabonis had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists but the Warriors held De’Aaron Fox in check as he scored 16 points on 5-for-19 shooting in his third game playing with a broken index finger on his shooting hand.
Trailing 58-56 at halftime, the Warriors opened the second half with a 13-4 burst and held the Kings to 42 points after intermission.
Sacramento had scored early on with a beautiful combination of classic give-and-goes and long jumpers off crisp passing around the perimeter.
But Curry kept coming, and Looney kept scrapping to create second and third opportunities to cap his brilliant series on the boards. They sent Kings fans to the exits late in the fourth.
Thompson began 1 for 10 missing his first five 3s before connecting at the 9:18 mark of the third and finishing with 16 points on 4-for-19 shooting — “disgusting,” he said — while playing smothering defense. Golden State, playing just its fourth Game 7 under Kerr since the 2014-15 title run, was smart down the stretch after 18 turnovers in Game 6 led to 23 Kings points and Kerr calling his team “wildly undisciplined.”
Kerr had no doubt before the deciding game — and he went back to Draymond Green in the starting lineup for Game 7 with the season on the line after the fiery forward came off the bench the previous three contests following a Game 3 suspension for stepping on Sabonis.
Just before the final buzzer, Kerr offered a long embrace to Brown — Golden State’s former top assistant who once coached the Warriors on the postseason stage during Kerr’s extended health absence and just guided the Kings’ remarkable turnaround.
“I can’t dream of nothing like this, gotta see it in person,” Monk said of all the successes. “You can’t dream anything like this unless you’re doing it. Looking forward to being back next year.”
LOONEY ON THE BOARDS
Looney wound up with 106 rebounds in the series — 37 on the offensive glass. This was his fifth straight playoff game with double-digit rebounds.
Kings: The Kings shot 12 for 47 on 3s and 37.5% overall. … After Sacramento’s bench outscored the Warriors 52-21 in Game 6, the reserves again came through — 25-8 in the first half and 41-18 overall.
Warriors: Curry missed consecutive free throws in the second and Thompson couldn’t convert a pair early in the third. Golden State went 19 of 30 from the line after missing 10 free throws in Game 6 (25 of 35). … Gary Payton II blocked four shots. … Golden State hadn’t been to Game 7 since the 2018 Western Conference Finals at Houston on the way to reaching their fourth straight finals and repeat championship. … Golden State improved to 19-0 in playoff series against West opponents under Kerr.