OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — MVP Stephen Curry knocked down yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.
A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.
Splash Brothers Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Now, Curry and Co. are playing for another NBA title — just as they planned since Day 1 of training camp in late September.
Bring on LeBron James once more.
“We survived by the skin of our teeth,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We were able to pull it out, and we’re moving on.”
Curry scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, while Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.
The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.
Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.
His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.
“This is who he is. Having a clutch performance in a Game 7, that’s Steph Curry,” Kerr said.
The Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. Curry made all three free throws, then a 3-pointer to seal it.
And Golden State’s beloved “Strength In Numbers” catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Kerr was needed in every way on this night to do it.
“It took a lot of resiliency,” Thompson said. “We’ve been doing it all year.”
Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Shaun Livingston’s driving, one-handed dunk late in the third provided a big lift off the Warriors bench.
Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds for the Thunder.
“It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1,” Durant said.
It took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after his 41-point performance in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series to a decisive seventh game back home in the East Bay.
He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry’s 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.
Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30.
Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup and what a move by Kerr and his staff, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Draymond Green for Golden State’s first basket of the game, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.
But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn’t sustain it.
The Warriors, who began 3 for 11 from long range and 9 of 32 overall while falling behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.
Kerr wouldn’t tip his hand to any lineup change after Iguodala started the second half of Game 6.
“I have made 11 alterations to the game plan, none of which I will share with you,” he said.
Thunder: The Thunder’s 12 third-quarter points were the fewest allowed by Golden State in a playoff third quarter during the shot clock era. … Durant took nine shots in the first 33:25. … Oklahoma City led by as many as 13 in the first half and outrebounded the Warriors 29-24. … The Thunder only outrebounded the Warriors 47-46. … Thunder coach Billy Donovan celebrated his 51st birthday. … The Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State’s opponent the previous round, are the only teams to beat the Warriors twice this season.
Warriors: The Warriors are 4-4 all-time in Game 7s — 3-1 at home. … Iguodala earned his first since Jan. 2 against Denver. … Golden State wasn’t whistled for its first foul until 2:34 in the first. … The Warriors’ 42 first-half points were their fewest at home this season. … Curry hit a 3 in his 51st straight playoff game.