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Stephen Curry continued his season-opening quest to transubstantiate "the league's most unguardable player" from trademarked ad copy into sacred text on Saturday. On this Halloween night, the scariest thing imaginable wasn't Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers or how much topsoil we're losing each year. It was the MVP with the ball in his hands and a whisper of a sliver of space, which is all the room he ever needs to unleash the unholy terror that keeps giving opponents nightmares.
Just four nights after opening the season by hanging 40 on the New Orleans Pelicans — the team his Dubs eliminated from the 2015 playoffs on their stomp to the NBA championship, the team now coached by former Warriors offensive guru Alvin Gentry — Curry traveled to New Orleans and did even more of that voodoo that he do so well. The MVP repeatedly served up roast pelican, making 17 of his 27 field-goal attempts, shooting 8-for-14 from 3-point range and a perfect 11-for-11 from the free-throw line en route to an NBA-season-high 53 points in a 134-120 road win that improved the defending champs to 3-0 and dropped woefully wounded New Orleans to 0-3.
He also added nine assists, four rebounds and four steals against just two turnovers in his 35 1/2 minutes, because I suppose the shooting wasn't unfair enough on its own. And oh, by the way, he did this on the second night of a back-to-back on the road.
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It was the third 50-point game of Curry's career — only two other Warriors have hit the half-century mark three times: Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry — joining the eye-opening 54 he dropped on the New York Knicks in February 2013 and the 51 he served the Dallas Mavericks in February 2015. This season, though, Curry's not waiting until the thermostat drops to heat up.
He's been scorching from tipoff, following up an opening-night performance in which he scored 24 points in the first quarter (then a career-high for a single frame) by pouring in 28 in the third quarter on Saturday, hitting 10 of his 13 shots, including 5-for-7 from deep. At this rate, he'll top Klay Thompson's NBA record for most points in a quarter by Thanksgiving.
Curry outscored New Orleans by himself in the third quarter, 28-26. He also directly assisted on nine more points — triples by Thompson and Draymond Green, plus an and-one dunk by Harrison Barnes — to account for 37 of the 41 Golden State put up in the third.
"I got some screens off pick-and-roll and off the ball that got me some free looks," Curry told CSN Bay Area's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude after the game. "And then, out of that, you start to get creative, try to be more aggressive and just test out the hot hand."
The hand remained scorching, but it also continued to feed others rather than simply (and justifiably!) seeking more for itself. The
threat promise of Curry's shooting stretches defenses past their breaking points, allowing him to take advantage of the seams he creates by blowing past defenders, knifing into the lane, collapsing coverages and finding teammates, whether he can see them or not:
What makes Curry such an impossible problem to solve is that even when your defense doesn't break down — even when Curry's man's right in his mug and everybody's where they're supposed to be behind him — he just pulls up and dots you before you can blink, even if you're Anthony Davis (and maybe especially when you're AD; Steph got him four times on Saturday):
At this point, defending Curry isn't even trying to grab hold of smoke. It's trying to confirm a rumor that smoke once existed while stranded on a desert island. Where do you even start?
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It's worth noting, if only for the historical record, that the Pelicans didn't throw in the towel here. With Andrew Bogut sidelined by a concussion, New Orleans outrebounded Golden State, 48-38, and held significant advantages in points in the paint (56-36) and on second-chance opportunities (19-1). The Pelicans led at halftime, thanks to strong starts from the backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, and key contributions from reserves Ryan Anderson, Alexis Ajinca and the recently re-signed Toney Douglas.
Even after Steph unsheathed his flaming sword in that third quarter, Gentry's club continued to fight, getting within nine after three free throws by Anthony Davis — who finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 37 minutes, which, under normal circumstances, would be a line worth talking about — with 2:35 remaining in regulation.
And then Steph — who, like last season, sat for much of the fourth quarter after setting his opponent ablaze before it started — did this:
... and that was all she wrote. The lead never again dipped below double digits.
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As great as Curry was last year, and as much as he's shown us during his rise from stud shooter to sport-changing legend, it looks like he's reached an even higher level. He's scored an absurd 118 points in 99 minutes of playing time this season, making him the first Warrior since Wilt to score that many points in the first three games of a season, and the first player on any team to do it since Michael Jordan, 26 years ago.
Curry's shooting an obscene 58.8 percent from the field, 48.6 percent from 3-point range and 95.5 percent from the line. He's turned the ball over just five times in three games, despite ranking sixth in the league in touches. He's also got 22 dimes in that span, assisting on a shade under 45 percent of his teammates' buckets during his time on the floor. The Warriors have outscored opponents by 40 points in Curry's 99 minutes.
For all its problems, Player Efficiency Rating can be a quick back-of-the-envelope snapshot of a player's per-minute production. League average is 15. Get above 20 in starter's minutes and you're probably in the running for an All-Star spot. Curry finished his MVP-winning campaign at 28. Through three games this season, he's at 52.3.
As widely beloved and celebrated as Curry's become, he seems driven by doubt, whether quietly raised by peers, plainly stated by opponents (on whom he then jauntily thwacks 25-7-6 in 27 1/2 minutes in a 20-point beating), manufactured by looking into his past or generated by a perhaps deliberate misreading of others' comments. It's not that he's playing like a man who hasn't proved anything; it's that he's playing like a man bent on ensuring the entire world understands there's no longer an argument that he hasn't proved everything. From Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com:
Draymond Green has seen the building storm for some time. He welcomes it. He keeps telling Curry the same thing: “Man, you acting like this your league." What once was imagined is getting actualized. The confidence of an MVP season and a championship just perpetuates, fueling a great player further. [...]
When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren't supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn't supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”
The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it's one thing to play like it. It's one thing to score like it. It's one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It's tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That's dangerous.”
You certainly don't need to tell the Pelicans that. (About the only good news for New Orleans these days is that they don't have to see Curry again until March.)
The scariest part of all isn't just how dangerous Curry's become. It's that becoming the danger has made these opposition-engulfing explosions seem inevitable. He's the grim, inexorable consequence at the end of whatever bad decision you make. Anton Chigurh in Under Armour with a scraggly beard. His function is his function. You barely factor into the outcome.
"I come out every game with the same mentality: trying to just leave an imprint on the game," Curry told Gold-Onwude.
With each passing night — and every jaw-dropping, highlight-filled, record-setting performance — it becomes ever clearer that the imprint Stephen Curry's leaving on the game is indelible and undeniable. It's so damn fun to watch him work ... and it must be so damn scary to face him right now.
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