There are breakout games from really good players (see Al Jefferson going off in the past week), impossible to predict explosions from unknowns (see Terrence Ross' 51), and then there are MVP performances from MVP-type players (see Kevin Durant averaging 2142352 points per game in the past month). Stephen Curry's 44 points on 14-26 shooting, 8-13 on threes, propelled a stunningly stagnant Warriors offense to a back-to-back win over one of, if not the worst, team in the Western Conference.
The Jazz big men refused to step up on pick-and-rolls and left Curry wide open behind the line repeatedly, essentially handing on a silver platter a "slumping" shooter a free roll. Curry isn't Durant or LeBron James, but on nights like this one, when a seemingly easy win over the Utah Jazz waltzes dangerously close to nearing windowsill-walking status for fans, he is masterful in breaking an opposing team's heart not through anything physically dominant but an exquisitely visceral jump shot transcending the future. Hyperbole intended.
Trey after long-arcing trey, Curry pushed a heaping pile of zombies through a door that was being pelted shut with Harrison Barnes bricks . Curry's partner-in-crime and pick-and-roll buddy sans Lee became Bogut in this game. Mark Jackson reverted back to the one-in, four-out configuration to start the game, with Barnes at the power forward spot but he didn't make much of an impact. When the Warriors played this system in last year's postseason, Bogut got the ball at the top of the free-throw line and either bulldozed straight to the rim (only on an open lane) or flipped to Barnes or Klay Thompson in the corner. This season, his confidence has slowly risen to the point where he's flicking behind-the-back backdoor dishes to Curry, taking two half dribbles for a floater and just bullying his way past the Rudy Goberts of the world for a slam. He doesn't have the David Lee post-game but was just as effective with the ball tonight.
And, oh, Bogut and Iguodala combined to devour Gordon Hayward's soul in the fourth quarter. The one play where he wasn't being erased by Iguodala, Hayward went to slam one down but Bogut inhaled the ball and rebounded it in one motion put the whole Warriors defense in one reel for everyone to see.
Warriors fans, like everyone else emotionally invested in anything, are prone to overreactions. The Warriors of 2013-14 are prone to alternating games in which they'll play like NBA Finals contenders and a lottery team ready to give up their pick to the Utah Jazz. Curry didn't let that happen. MVP performance for a dark-horse MVP candidate - even though it'd take an injury for people to seriously consider him as such.
1. Draymond Green checked in for Barnes and immediately made gave the Warriors a defensive presence that bordered on maniacal in the anger and passion exhibited. Granted, emotion is an aspect of the game but judging someone on how their legs are splayed on rebounds isn't a referendum on their game. But it's not only clear that Green is a better player than Barnes right now but is also the second-best wing AND interior defender for the Warriors. That colossal dunk in the fourth quarter doesn't hurt his chances, either.
2. The Iguodala backlash is starting? He's been simply dreadful coming off his hamstring injury on offense but after a couple tough games against Kevin Martin and Kevin Durant, he's been up to his usual defensive wizardry. No longer hitting 3s at the rate he did in the beginning of the season and looking Barnes-level disinterested on offense, he's playing like a souped-up Draymond Green. It's not bad but people expect more after seeing what he was in the first 10-15 games. As long as hamstring injuries don't suddenly become career-enders, here's thinking he'll heal sooner than later.
3. Harrison Barnes: the struggle continues. This time with several missed layups and horribly missed jumpers. Were the first 24 minutes on Thursday night a fluke?
4. Klay Thompson finished the game 3-20. In one of the most important offensive possessions late in the fourth quarter, the Warriors called a Thompson post-up, which led to a miss. It was an agonizingly awful, and sadly, predictable call but Jackson was rewarded when Hayward dribbled off his foot in Utah's final possession with the game on the line. To Jackson's credit, it worked. Who else was he going to insert for Thompson? A struggling Barnes? Defensively inept Jordan Crawford? Maybe the game wouldn't be that close with either of them hitting a couple open threes but the process was sadly jumbled enough which easily justified the result.
5. Curry is starting to excel as a flopper. Throughout the season, whenever the Warriors are in the penalty, Curry has set a cross-screen for Bogut or a big man coming across the lane. When the opposing defender, usually more preoccupied with chasing Bogut than watching a small Curry, ends up bowling over the lithe point guard, Curry falls someone just sniped him and essentially gets a free layup at the free-throw line.
6. Jackson took Bogut out on the final possession, ostensibly to switch on the perimeter and prevent all threes. It worked. So we'll leave it at that.