What can you say about Stephen Curry that hasn't been said before? You've heard about his shot, his lightning release, his range, his handles, his explosive first step, his creative non-dunk finishes at the rim. You've heard about his character and modesty.
I want to point out how his character and leadership plays out on the court in the way he does not push to achieve personal stats and records.First of all, look at the ESPN highlights here or go to YouTube or look at the highlight package I embedded at the end, because he had a beauty of a game.
(Not) Going For 50
But let's roll back to 5:49 in the 4th quarter. The Warriors are up 115-102, so the game is basically over if they can score a couple of times, but it's also close enough that a couple of bad possessions could make it a tight game. Curry has 46 points and has 9 threes (the game record is 12). Would anyone blame him if Curry called a bunch of high pick and rolls with Draymond, and he bombed a few threes? It's a plausible offensive scheme too. Instead, these are the next seven possessions:
- 5:14. Curry starts off ball, backdoor cut, fouled going for a layup.
- 5:00. Curry doesn't touch the ball: curl for Klay off Bogut pindown screen. Resets to Draymond drive with dish to Bogut.
- 4:41. Curry draws a triple team and passes out to Draymond, deflection out of bounds.
- 4:35. Curry sets screen for Draymond drive with Bogut roll.
- 4:07. Curry to Draymond who hits Bogut cutting backdoor for a dunk.
- 3:50. Curry passes out of a layup to give Draymond a layup.
Now we've reached 3:30 left and it's a 13 point game. It's almost time to pull the starters. Curry is still stuck on 46 points and 9 3's because HE HAS NOT TAKEN A SHOT IN SEVEN POSSESSIONS (or one non-three if you count the backdoor layup) and has been setting up other teammates. He's basically given up the chance to get 12 3's and has much harder road to 50 before he's pulled (any minute now!) with the starters.
At 3:30, the game is just about in hand. The Magic, weirdly, pull their starters and begin a formal surrender. Now Curry is going to try for 50. Curry finally calls a high pick and roll, gets a big defender on a switch and shakes him for stepback three pointer. Now he's on 49 points. You know the hook is coming any moment. The next play, Curry flares off an Anderson Varejao screen for a very open three which he misses. The Basketball Gods have spoken: go for 50, you shall not make 50.
The next play, Curry lets Harrison Barnes bring the ball up. He runs to brush screen Draymond Green's defender under the basket and signals for Draymond to step out to get the ball in the post. Curry is clearing out to the far corner and appears to have given up the quest for 50. But then the Basketball Gods smiled in their mercy...
This is not a set play, because there is no way in Asgard that Curry should be open. Just as Curry starts clearing out for Green's post up, his defender Brandon Jennings #55 seems to completely had enough of following Curry and points for someone else to switch to Curry. ("This Curry bores me! NOW WE DANCE!") Jennings has already ordered one player to cover Barnes at the start. This is clearly a group not used to playing together, and Jennings is very new on the team. Now Jennings calls for #44 Andrew Nicholson to switch, but #44 is already guarding Draymond. Jennings ends up guarding nobody as he looks around for someone to pick up Curry for him. Curry, who had given up on 50, suddenly finds himself alone under the basket. Draymond hits him with the pass. Jennings, almost resentfully, goes up to contest Curry's shot and Curry makes a quietly skillful fake and layup. Kerr pulls Curry. Game.
ps. Curry interviews and does not get nailed with the ice water. Draymond has weary road legs.
Final Thoughts and All 51 Points
First, I have no doubt that if Curry were the no-conscience gunner that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan were, he would have multiple 60 point games by now, and perhaps a 70 or 80 point game. But the Warriors probably wouldn't have as many wins, and they wouldn't have the tight team-focus that has made them literally the GREATEST REGULAR SEASON TEAM IN NBA HISTORY so far. (So weird.) Remember how Draymond earlier this year admitted that chasing triple-doubles made him mess up the team's play? Can you imagine if Harrison Barnes went out of the offense to get his numbers in a contract year? Or the bench players gunned for theirs? Or if Andrew Bogut went for shot block records instead of playing sound defense? The team works better when everyone pushes for the best team play. And that happens when your leaders Curry and Green put the win before their stats.
And really, can you picture Westbrook, Harden or Kyrie on the verge of getting 50 or near the three-point record and playing off-ball and setting up teammates for seven possessions in a row? Even SCREENING for others?
Tonight, Curry made the right plays while the game was in doubt, then fired up a couple of shots taking a last stab at 50, then got it when he was done trying for it. The Basketball Gods chuckle.