OAKLAND, Calif. – When the Golden State Warriors exploded into the national consciousness, becoming an international sensation seemingly overnight, it was because of the evergreen genius of Stephen Curry. Fans flocked to arenas hours before games to catch a glimpse of his pregame shooting routine. Whenever he got hot in front of his home crowd at Oracle Arena – and even, at times, on the road – fans would lose themselves in celebration, reveling in this star that looked like a regular guy but had become one of the greatest players in the sport.
But when Kevin Durant signed with Golden State in July of 2016, fresh off Curry winning two straight most valuable player awards, Curry’s greatness seemed to recede a bit. The Warriors were no longer the Stephen Curry Show; instead, they became a collection of talent the likes of which the NBA has rarely – if ever – seen. And, in the year-and-a-half since Durant arrived, the Warriors have backed up those expectations with their play on the court, performing at a level no one can match.
There are occasions, however, when the world is reminded how this whole thing began, and how Curry can light up the scoreboard in a way unlike anyone in this league full of stars.
Saturday night was one of those times. That’s what 49 points – what Curry put up in Golden State’s 109-104 victory over the Boston Celtics – will do.
“I think, when a guy has been an MVP twice, you just sort of accept the fact he is one of the best players in the world,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “When he was on the rise, and the MVPs happened, it was maybe a bigger story.
“But maybe that is a sign of true greatness, when people just expect it every night. We expect it every night, because it happens almost every single night.
“He’s just a special, special player.”
Curry reminded everyone of that in this one. With 13 points in the final 105 seconds Saturday, he held off the hard-charging Celtics, who received their own impressive performance from Curry’s old NBA Finals nemesis Kyrie Irving (37 points on 18 field goal attempts). It was a wildly entertaining game that reinforced the argument being made by many these days that a Finals matchup besides the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers would be a more enjoyable outcome for the league.
The Warriors needed every one of those 49 points from Curry, given Durant and Klay Thompson shot a combined 10 for 30 – including 1 for 9 from three-point range – and with Irving doing his best to match him shot-for-shot.
In many ways, it was a throwback to the days before Durant, when the Warriors needed nightly performances like this to become the league’s preeminent team.
It was a performance noteworthy enough to cause legendary broadcaster Dan Rather, of all people, to weigh in after the game, tweeting that Curry’s stock has “dropped” in the eyes of “some ‘serious’ basketball analysts.”
While that is a debatable claim – fans, players and media voted for him as an all-star starter – it is true that the arrival of Durant has changed the way both he, and his place within the Warriors, have been viewed. Given the way the Warriors use sheer talent to overwhelm virtually every opponent, it can be easy to overlook the individual exploits of the team’s stars.
But after Saturday’s performance, Curry is now averaging 28.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor, 43 percent from three-point range and 90.9 percent from the foul line – numbers that are in line with his two MVP seasons.
Beyond the numbers, Curry still is — to use the old Reggie Jackson line — the straw that stirs the drink for Golden State. Sure, the Warriors have largely rolled right along when Curry has had to sit at various points this season with injuries – that, after all, is why the Warriors pursued Durant in the first place. But there is something tangibly different – and tangibly missing – when Curry is in street clothes.
With him, the Warriors play with a verve, with a swagger; that is what makes them stand out from everyone else, and is what initially made them the team Durant eyed from afar and chose to join. Curry is famous for his aw-shucks demeanor off the court. But on it? He audaciously tries to stick a dagger into his opponent.
There was no better example than the shot that started Curry’s run of 13 points in those final 105 seconds to close out Saturday’s game. He grabbed a rebound off a Marcus Morris miss and brought the ball upcourt. Even before he came across the half-court stripe, it was clear what he was going to do.
He got a high screen, came off of it and, from the top of the key and about 30 feet away, pulled up and let it fly.
There was no doubt about what the result would be. And from that point forward, the Warriors never trailed again – largely because Curry kept scoring.
“You just got to sit back and enjoy the show,” Durant said.
The Warriors did just that Saturday night. And, like he has so many times before, Stephen Curry delivered the kind of performance that only he can.
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