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Welcome to the Curry Bowl

Steph and Seth are wildly different in terms of accolades, star power, and talent, but any matchup between two brothers is worth celebrating—especially when that matchup is the Western Conference finals

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In 2009, two days before Steph Curry played the first professional game of his career—long before the two MVPs, three championships, five All-NBA honors, and an impending 2019 Western Conference finals matchup against the Blazers and his little brother, Seth Curry—he forewarned the consequence of sharing the court with family.

The game didn’t end til some got hurt or quit. To an only child, this may come across as fatuous or dangerous or even barbaric; between siblings, it’s surviving boredom and each other. There’s a nostalgia we all carry for the ratty hoop in the driveway, for H.O.R.S.E. games we won and best-of-11s we didn’t. But as one of five kids, I can promise you this: The Currys’ one-vs.-one wasn’t cute at the time. It was taunting and pushing and calling for fouls that didn’t exist, a familial love language that never really goes away, just softens with age.

The rules are different for the Currys now, the first set of NBA brothers to ever face one another in a conference finals. Pros keep score. The game ends at the buzzer, not with a scraped knee. The sibling rivalry, however, stays. On Sunday, after the Blazers beat the Nuggets to advance, Steph shot Seth a nonchalant text: “I’ll see you Tuesday.”

The Curry Bowl—or the Bowl of Curry—isn’t level. Vegas opened the series line at minus-450 in favor of the Warriors (an implied win probability north of 80 percent). The figure has almost nothing to do with how Steph’s and Seth’s individual talents match up against each other. One is a starter and the other a reserve. They’ll share the court only sporadically. Golden State as a whole is superior, and holds home-court advantage in one of the NBA’s loudest arenas.

Steph and Seth aren’t Venus and Serena Williams. Not Peyton and Eli Manning, nor Phil and Tony Esposito. Think Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller. Steph is a superstar, already considered one of the best to ever shoot the ball; Seth, his brother by blood, isn’t even a Splash Brother. Steph has starred in four conference finals and advanced each time; Seth’s only postseason trips before this year were ones he spent traveling with Dell and Sonya to watch his brother.

Their head-to-head matchups are as lopsided as their respective trophy cases. Because this is Seth’s first playoff run in his six-year career, he’s only ever squared up against during Steph the regular season. They’ve played each other nine times, with Steph’s teams leading Seth’s 7-2. Comparing starter stats with those off the bench is unfair, but it’s worth noting in those games (below) that Steph exceeds his career average in scoring, while his brother’s dips:

Steph: 24.6 points in 33.2 minutes, 47.6 FG%, 43.0 3P%, 85.4 FT%, 5.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.6 steals

Seth: 8.0 points in 19.9 minutes, 36.9 FG%, 34.4 3P%, 81.3 FT%, 1.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals

How much better Golden State was in every matchup is also important context: Seth faced the Warriors three times while he was with the 2015-16 Kings (a 33-49 team) and three times with the 2016-17 Mavericks (also 33-49) before playing them three times in 2018-19 with the Blazers (53-29). Portland went 2-1 against Golden State this season, accounting for both of Seth’s wins over his big brother. Though Seth didn’t break 20 minutes in any of the three games (and scored just three points in the second, which was the one the Blazers lost), he did defend Steph for 32 total possessions. It’s a small sample size—just one-third of the possessions Damian Lillard, Portland’s primary defender for Steph this regular season, was responsible for—but it’s also the second-most times that any Blazer took on the Steph assignment.

Seth made a case to be the favorite child in those possessions: Steph scored a total 16 points on 14 shots, shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 30 percent on 10 attempts behind the arc. Steph will always have high-volume opportunities against a bench unit because that typically makes for an easier matchup, yet against his little brother, it took far more shots than typical to get his points. Considering Seth’s accuracy on the other end when Steph was the one guarding him (33 possessions, 50 percent both from the field and from 3), the matchup is one Portland should be able to survive in limited minutes.

Making a name for yourself in the shadow of an NBA relative is tough. (Especially with a nearly identical name.) Seth’s career follows two Currys —and two NBA greats—in Dell and Steph. But this season was the beginning of a higher profile for Seth. He finished third in the NBA in 3-point percentage (45 percent), one spot above Steph (43.7 percent), then joined his brother at All-Star Weekend to participate in the 3-point contest, Seth’s first-ever appearance. And now, he’s in a conference finals, still very much the underdog.

“I actually look forward to watching Seth and doing that,” mom Sonya said on Mother’s Day, when she found out her sons would be playing against each other. “I want him to steal the ball and want him to shoot over Stephen and all that good stuff. I want him to have his moments too. ... One of them might go home. But we’re going to the championship!”

Moms are never wrong, but I have to politely push back: One of them will definitely go home. There’s no “might.” Back to a hoop in a driveway.