The Miami Heat gave the Golden State Warriors absolutely everything they could handle on Wednesday night. They got on top of the defending NBA champions early, leading by as many as 12 points late in the first quarter, answered every run the league's No. 1 offense mustered, and held a two-point advantage with 70 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately, there were still 70 seconds remaining, and the guys in blue still employed Stephen Curry.
With the Warriors trailing 106-104 following a missed jumper by Heat star Dwyane Wade, the league's reigning MVP dribbled across half-court and received a monster double-screen from big men Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green that walled off Curry's defender, Goran Dragic. With Heat center Hassan Whiteside stepping back to protect the paint rather than up to meet the shooter, and help defender Luol Deng a step late on his in-case-of-emergency-break-glass rotation to contest the shot, Curry got a clean look at a pull-up 27-foot — the kind of shot that's a terrible idea for most of the rest of the NBA's players, but that Curry has now made remarkably routine. Splash. Warriors lead, 107-106.
After Bogut picked up his sixth foul trying to contest a shot by Wade, who made both his free throws to regain the lead at 108-107, the Warriors once again dialed up a double-high screen — this time with Green and Harrison Barnes setting the picks — but Deng met Curry curling off Barnes' hip and stalled his penetration, forcing Steph to pull the ball back out. He flicked a lefty pass to Green, who had popped wide open beyond the 3-point arc as Whiteside again sunk into the paint, only to see Draymond's 3-pointer rejected by the 7-foot center with whom he'd exchanged some Twitter not-so-pleasantries this past summer.
The ball came right back to the Warriors, though, and Curry calmly took another Green screen that cleaned out Deng, leaving Steph alone a good two steps behind the line with Whiteside not quick enough to close the airspace. Bang: 110-108 Warriors with 39 seconds left.
This is where the Heat fans in the audience would like to note that Draymond's screen was juuuuuuuust the other side of proper:
Draymond Green with the obvious moving screen on that late Curry 3-pointer pic.twitter.com/rcZxQCWYIo— gifdsports (@gifdsports) February 25, 2016
But the officials let it go, and Golden State wouldn't do likewise, holding onto their lead and winning the free-throw battle down the stretch to finish off a 118-112 win. The Warriors are now 51-5, the best record through 56 games in NBA history, and one game ahead of pace set by Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls during the 1995-96 season in which they set the NBA record for wins by going 72-10.
"We knew the way that they're successful is their physicality," Curry told Fox Sports Sun sideline reporter Jason Jackson after the game. "They play their style, and they try to get to it every game. They battled, they made shots, D-Wade and Hassan had huge games. It was a huge test. On the road, any time you play a basketball team like them, it's going to be a tough task."
Hanging on despite monster games from Wade (32 points on 11-for-20 shooting, seven assists) and Whiteside (21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, 13 rebounds, two blocks off the bench) improved the Warriors' stellar record against top competition:
They did so thanks in large part to another scorching night from the Splash Brothers.
Curry finished with 42 points on 14-for-29 shooting to go with seven rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and a steal. It was Curry's ninth 40-point game of the season, tops in the NBA ahead of James Harden's eight, and as many as he had in his entire NBA career heading into this season. He did it in just under 36 minutes of playing time, which is a lopsided ratio that's become quite common for the All-NBA guard:
Stephen Curry finishes with 42 points in 36 minutes -- the 22nd time this season he's tallied more points than minutes. Crazy.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 25, 2016
Curry also went 6-for-12 from beyond the arc, marking the 127th straight game in which he made a 3-pointer, which ties Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks for the longest such streak in NBA history. The consistency's undeniably impressive, but not nearly as eye-popping as the frequency with which Steph's cashing in from deep this season, just one year after setting a new NBA record for most made 3-pointers in a single regular season with 286:
Stephen Curry finishes the game with 266 made threes on the season, one behind Dennis Scott for fourth all-time.— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) February 25, 2016
To recap: Curry already owns the top two 3-point-shooting seasons in league history; just hitting his season-average number of triples during Thursday's game against the Orlando Magic will surpass Scott and Ray Allen to give him the top three seasons ever; and he needs just 21 makes in the next 26 games to break his own record. Again.
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But Curry's offensive onslaught might have been for naught, and his late-game heroics might never have come to pass, had Golden State not also gotten a huge performance from Klay Thompson.
The All-Star shooting guard scored 17 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, including 15 straight in a 4-1/2-minute stretch that the Warriors desperately needed to answer a Heat team laying it all on the line despite playing shorthanded, with the status of star Chris Bosh still up in the air, backup point guard Beno Udrih likely out for the season and reserve guard Tyler Johnson still out after shoulder surgery.
With the pace cranked up, healthy bodies in short supply and the best team in the world in town, Miami did its level best to answer the call, and had plenty to feel pleased about after a game that featured 23 lead changes and 10 ties. In the end, though, as has been the case on all but five occasions this season, when the Warriors had to make plays, they did, and the Heat paid the price.
Hassan on blocking Draymond shot late: "I didn't mean to block it as hard as I did. Unfortunately it went to Steph Curry."— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) February 25, 2016
Dwyane Wade, laughing, when asked about Curry getting shot after Green got blocked: "I kind of wished Draymond would have gotten the look."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 25, 2016
Wade: "That's why Steph Curry is who he is. He made two daggers man. We couldn't play any better than we did." #Heat— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) February 25, 2016
"Miami outplayed us much of the game," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. "But we hung in there until Steph and Klay took over."
We'd imagine Kerr would prefer his squad got back to blowing the doors off the opposition in the first three quarters rather than sweating it out in the final minute, but if you have to, there are worse fall-back plans than relying on your historically sharpshooting All-Star backcourt to carry you across the finish line and bring you one step closer to NBA immortality.
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