Kurtenbach: Why Stephen Curry’s 51-point explosion felt even larger


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OAKLAND — One of the coolest things about this Golden State dynasty — one of the big reasons I consider the Warriors to be roundball revolutionaries — is that they changed the way fans cheer during games.

It used to be that the pinnacle of basketball excitement — the thing that brought basketball fans out of their seats and onto their feet, the thing that created the air of expectation in the arena — was a slam dunk.

But when Stephen Curry and Warriors came of age in the 2014-15 season, they not only hacked the NBA through simple math — 3 is greater than 2 — they also turned the 3-point shot into the most exciting event in the sport.

 

These days, every competent team in the NBA tries to play like those free-flowing, joyful Warriors that won the title in 2015 and set a single-season wins record in 2016: today’s game is all about pace and space, switching defense, and 3-point shots galore.

Meanwhile, the Warriors, with Kevin Durant in the fold, have taken their game to another level — they’re a ruthlessly efficient death machine. Sometimes, when the Golden State combine is threshing at full speed, you can understand why so many fans allege the Warriors ruined the league.

But on Wednesday night, as Stephen Curry scored 51 points on 11 made 3-pointers in only three quarters of play, I couldn’t help but feel as if everyone in Oracle Arena had been transported back to 2015.

Curry turned in a truly preposterous performance — brazen to the core — but there was also an innocence and joy to it all.

If any other player in the NBA goes off the way Curry did Wednesday — if someone else were to embrace that kind of hot-hand, one-versus-five, shimmy-on-the-way-back style — he would become a villain.

But because it was Curry — because he was dominating by doing things that any other player would be foolish to even try — you couldn’t help but laugh.

Or, in Curry’s case, shrug.

It’s probably the baby face that lets him get away with it.

Every time Curry touched the ball Wednesday, it seemed as if he could do the impossible — that palpable excitement you feel when you see a guy jump into the air for an alley-oop? That was the feeling that rushed through the arena every time Curry dribbled against Washington.

Curry was pulling up from anywhere he wanted. Thirty feet out, three defenders in his face? No problem.

“Some of the shooting was just mind-boggling — nobody has ever done was he’s doing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You get a guy taking 40 footers and you’re on the sideline and you’re on the sidelines going ’yeah, that’s a good shot — good job.’ Explain that. We’ve never seen this before.”

Curry was unconscious, and everyone watching — including the opponent — was put in a trance.

It’s easy to forget, but there were nine other people were on the court at a time on Wednesday. There was a game — a real one that counts in the standings — being played. It was completely overshadowed by the Steph Show.

Durant tuned in a performance that will be one of the best in the league this week — 30 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in 31 minutes on 72 percent shooting — but it, of course, paled in comparison to the Steph Show.

The Warriors also played terrible defense for most of the game. But it didn’t matter — the Steph Show was on.

Draymond Green had 12 assists and was stellar in initiating the offense off of defensive rebounds. Who cares? Steph Show.

There will be plenty made out about how Curry is trying to prove a point to the rest of the NBA about how he’s still one of the best players in the league (somehow it seems as if he’s forgotten in the conversations about the game’s best).

There will be lots of talk about him winning another MVP award 77 games from now — it’d be his third such award — and what that would mean for his standing in NBA history.

Some will even go as far to allege that Curry — sensing Durant’s departure from the Bay at the end of the season — is reestablishing his ownership of the Warriors after two years of sacrificing to No. 35.

And those are all viable narratives.

But we can talk about all of that stuff another day.

That’s because Wednesday’s game might have been Curry’s all-time best performance at Oracle Arena. And seeing as this is the last season the Warriors will play in the venerable old barn — one that thanks to its low, concrete roof that makes it a terrible venue for concerts, but in conjunction with a rowdy, knowledgeable fanbase, makes it an unparalleled one for basketball — that hits a bittersweet note.

When conditions are perfect, the Oracle Arena crowd is a 20,000-piece orchestra and Curry is the eccentric conductor.

There’s truly nothing in sports quite like the energy in that building during an extended Curry Flurry, and I don’t know how many more times we’ll even come close to a performance like that 51-point outburst.

Maybe its nostalgia — that imminent end to something special — that took my mind back to 2015 Wednesday night. I felt like I was watching his 51-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks in 2015 — the game that it became clear to me that everything that basketball was going to be irrevocably changed and that Curry was going to win MVP.

Or perhaps it was the fact that it had been a while since I’ve seen Curry take over a game like that.

Either way, despite the fact that Curry is one of the most famous people on earth — a player who is already an all-time great in his profession — Wednesday night’s performance felt like a re-introduction.

That guy playing against the Wizards? That was the Stephen Curry that turned the Warriors into a dynasty.

Remember him?

He’s back.

And despite the fact that so many are following in his footsteps, there’s simply no one today — and no one in the history of the NBA — that can do what he does it quite like him.

 

Story from mercurynews.com


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