Last night, Curry cemented a legacy that shouldn’t need to be defended by going off for a career-high 62-point explosion. He hit eight threes and set another personal record by making 18 free throws (on 19 attempts, also a record). All in a statement win over a Portland Trailblazers team that had just waxed Golden State two nights before.
It was the sort of display of power that the deferential star uncorks from time to time, but the scale of this one was jaw dropping.
The NBA has a short memory, with pundits and fans alike ready to pounce on the slightest weakness and eviscerate a player or organization for struggling. The greater the player, the more vociferous the chatter. Stephen Curry is no stranger to this criticism, despite quite literally revolutionizing the league by shepherding in a new era and legitimizing the prioritization of three-point shooting.
Too small. Declining (at age 32, apparently). A collaborative talent.
From not having arms that were “NBA ready” and being too small to physically dominate a game, to the most recent chatter from an ex-NBA player with a national platform - Curry continues to shut people up and prove them wrong… well, prove them wrong, at least.
“I’m honestly not playing dumb, does he really take criticism?”
That was coach Steve Kerr, furrowed brow and ill-fitting mask in place, talking about the chatter. It’s funny, because it is true that you have to dig a bit to find fault with the three time champ and only unanimous MVP in league history. But you don’t have to dig too deep to find the slander. If anything, it’s the opposite: a thin veneer of poorly informed criticism painted over the top of Curry’s accolades. A superficial take that unfortunately has found a fertile field to grow in, from national media to casual observer.
During the most recent episode of Dubs Talk with Grant Liffmann, ex-Cleveland Cavalier, Channing Frye was concerned that Curry’s team was struggling due to lack of other All Stars:
“This year, there’s a lot of questions, not of, can he play, but can he adjust his game without those all-stars to make everyone else better,” Frye said. “I’m excited to see it, I think he can do it. I think the culture can do it and Steve Kerr can put them in the right situations.”
So yeah, Curry gets criticism.
He shouldn’t, but he does.
It’s funny really, that a poorly thought out take (from Channing Frye of all people), fomented this explosion, and if the Warriors do end up making playoff noise this year, it will be that same take that is at the center of any MVP talk.
Golden State’s roster is an imperfect amalgamation of cast-offs and free agents, cobbled together with what’s left of the Warriors core. Without much training camp, and missing critical frontcourt player Draymond Green, and rookie phenom James Wiseman, the Warriors didn’t just wobble out to a bad start, they got absolutely hammered in two nationally televised games by playoff-caliber teams.
As Marcus Thompson wrote last night for The Athletic, this was the sort of explosion that pulls all of Curry’s stats up - significantly. Not too surprising considering that we were only five games into the season before this:
...after putting up 62, he’s averaging 32.3 points on 45.8 percent shooting (36.1 percent from 3) with 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds. And the Warriors are 3-3, respectably in the thick of things.
And this touches on something that is at the heart of Curry slander - while his highlight reel is full of “ooh-ahh” moments, this isn’t a hulking LeBron James type of guy that shoulder charges through four defenders before finishing with a power dunk; nor is he going to wow people like watching all seven feet of Kevin Durant slither around the court before stretching his gumby arms out for an improbable layup or blocked shot. Curry’s magic is on the court, but much of the discussion is centered around what he does to his team, versus how dominant his game looks.
Last night’s explosion against the Blazers was precisely one of those moments. Dumb spreadsheet nerds like me love to talk about Curry’s insane efficiency and impact, but every now and then, the world needs to be slapped in the face with Curry’s greatness in a visceral way that scoring efficiency data can’t reach.
Curry has never been a one-dimensional outside shooter, but that was especially clear last night. He scored 38 of his points inside the arc on 10 of 15 shooting, and got to the line 19 times - a well-balanced highlight reel of nifty handles and ridiculous shooting.
With this one game, Curry has answered a bunch of questions that never should have been asked. He’s now averaging around 32 points per game, second most in the association, and perhaps more importantly, has re-asserted his value - even on a flawed roster. That same roster that got shelled by playoff teams just a couple of days ago, is now back on the national radar as someone you don’t really want to meet in the playoffs. Because Stephen Curry.
It’s the Curry that Warriors fans have known and loved and marveled at for years, just with the eye-popping, stat-sheet-stuffing numbers needed to remind anyone who needed reminding that Curry is for sure one of the best to ever play the game.