Stephen Curry had the game of his life, and that’s what will be remembered weeks, months and years from now. But in the hours after the Golden State Warriors’ second exciting loss in two nights, he’s going to think about how much better a win would make this feel. We don’t have the burden of winning, however, so we can get right into examining, gawking at, and somehow putting into perspective what we’ve just seen.
It was hard to imagine Curry playing better than he did last night, when he scored 38 points in 37 minutes, made 70% of his twos and threes, and stuck his nose in the middle of a full-fledged NBA skirmish/scuffle/kerfuffle in Indianapolis. Tonight, in Madison Square Garden, Curry became the star the Warriors hoped for when they drafted him seventh overall four years ago — one spot ahead of the New York Knicks.
He scored 54 points in 48 minutes against the Knicks, who in the end resorted to doubling and tripling the Warriors’ sharpshooter for good reason. Curry’s right wrist was so good, it led to a jaw-jutting Kobe Face that seemed warranted at the time. However, at the end of the game the Warriors made too many mistakes to allow Curry’s scintillating night to end with him triumphantly riding off the court on the shoulders of Andris Biedrins.
We’ll get to the reasons why Golden State lost (and there were many) in a bit. Curry just put on the best shooting display most fans under 30 have ever seen from a Warrior, and tonight was an enhanced continuation of what we saw less than 30 hours earlier. Flicks from Curry’s right wrist sent rainbows through the air at a trajectory that would make Derek Fisher blush, with some of his makes from distance almost not touching the net at all. Catch and shoot, swish. Curling around a screen, swish. Sprint, stop, swish. 11-of-13 from three-point range. 12 made threes is the record. Curry’s shooting was enough to make one completely ignore his 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
There were 4 turnovers, too. The Warriors had 17 of them as a team, and it seemed like they all occurred at the end of this 4-point loss. With less than four minutes remaining, the Warriors ran an inbounds play that had one purpose: get Curry the ball. It worked, as Curry curled close enough to Draymond Green so that Green could stick Raymond Felton with his left shoulder. Curry curled around to the right wing behind the arc, Klay Thompson fed him the ball. Swish, 103-102 lead for Golden State, 3:42 remaining. Curry trots over and high-fives Green with a sheepish grin (earlier in the game, when Curry was in another hemisphere mentally, he left Green hanging as he shimmied past in a way that looked slightly like convulsing, drunk off his own growing star power).
From there, the Warriors handed this game to New York. Not all of the following plays counted as official turnovers after this point, but they all did the job (for the Knicks):
3:13: Curry got a defensive rebound, fought his way up the floor until Tyson Chandler met him as he got closer to the basket. Available shooting angles started disappearing. So Curry jumped and threw a blind crosscourt pass somewhat behind him to his left, where he thought Thompson would be, that was stolen easily by Iman Shumpert.
3:02: Chandler grabbed the offensive rebound on a 3-point miss by J.R. Smith and passed to Carmelo Anthony, who made a three from the top of the key. Knicks lead, 105-103.
2:39: Jarrett Jack held the ball for an entire possession, dribbling around until he found himself guarded by Chandler at the top of the key. As Jim Barnett begged for Jack to take the Knicks’ center off the dribble, Jack missed a 26-footer.
1:28: Game tied at 105 thanks to two free throws from Curry 37 seconds earlier. Curry received the ball on the right wing. More worried about Chandler’s presence a few feet behind the man guarding him, Curry tried a long two that Felton blocked. Barnett, frustrated, wished aloud that Curry would have pumped-faked and gotten to the line again. Thompson guarded Smith well on the other end seconds later, but Smith made a contested jumper in the lane to give the Knicks the lead.
1:05: After a timeout, Chandler and Shumpert trapped Jack on the baseline, forcing him to travel. Curry was just breaking open off a Green screen as Jack hit the deck, making things seem even worse. Anthony then made a turnaround baseline jumper to give the Knicks a 4-point advantage.
43.7: Curry inbounded to Festus Ezeli and ran past for the handoff, or so Ezeli thought. Curry faked left and ran right, but Felton closed the gap and took the ball out of Ezeli’s hands. Barnett says, “I don’t know why the ball wasn’t thrown to Jarrett Jack in the first place.” Perhaps Curry wanted to ensure that he’d get the ball back?
34.3: Felton missed two free throws but somehow got his own rebound OVER Ezeli, who was only playing because David Lee was suspended for last night’s fracas.
11.9: After Curry rebounded a missed layup by Anthony, he was double teamed almost at halfcourt. He found an open Thompson, who missed a three from the left side. The game was effectively over at that point, but Jack got the rebound and passed it back to Thompson, who missed another three from a similar spot. Thompson was 3-for-13 on the night, 0-for-6 from three. He was the anti-Curry.
The Warriors also faced superlative efforts from Chandler (28 rebounds) and Smith (26 points, 6-of-11 from 3-pt range), but it was the way they squandered possessions in the last 3:42 that kept the best game of Curry’s career from taking place in the context of a win.
Regardless, his shooting was just plain sick. Forget the result, because you aren’t getting paid to win. Just watch and enjoy.