At around the 6:20 mark of the first quarter, Stephen Curry threw down a dunk as a result of a baseline cut — his first dunk since the All-Star game. There are many constants in the NBA, and one of them is that the end product of a sequence will always be the most eye-catching part, the most visually-appealing to fans at large. The fact that Curry is not widely known to be a leaper added additional incentive for the sequence to be fawned over by viewers and consumers of social media.
But Curry needed that ball to be brought to him with near-perfect timing and precision — an awkwardly placed or ill-timed pass would have most likely resulted in a turnover, or it might have even placed Curry in the embarrassing position of missing the dunk altogether. So as much as Curry’s dunk brought everyone to their feet, the pass leading to it deserved as much praise — after all, like most things in life, it is often the journey that makes the destination worth it.
That pass was delivered by Kevin Durant, the other half of the Warriors’ dreaded one-two punch that has been terrorizing the league for nearly three years. More known for being a pure scoring machine, Durant has expanded his game to the point that he has developed a bona fide all-around skill set. Passing has been the most glaring improvement seen from him, and in this sequence, it was what allowed the “vertically-challenged” Curry to throw down a dunk:
This sequence generated two of the 64 much-needed points combined from Curry and Durant, who were left to fend off a young and game Sacramento Kings team hungry for a playoff berth that has eluded them for twelve years. Curry solidified his claim to being the greatest shooter of all time by knocking down 10 threes on his way to finishing with 36 points. Durant provided his usual scoring punch by contributing 28 points of his own, in addition to tying his career high of 7 blocks and being a terrorizing presence on the defensive end.
Curry and Durant are far removed from their days of trying to adjust to each other’s presence; their partnership has been thriving, and it will continue to thrive as long as the two of them share the basketball court with the same Golden State markings on their uniforms.
Let’s dive into the film and see how that partnership led the Warriors to their first win of the stretch run.
Kevin Durant: Two-way beast
Durant will always get his buckets, and there is no room for doubt that he will do so through maximal efficiency; it is what sets him apart from the scorers of ages past, who have often relied on sheer volume — at the expense of efficiency — to score. Durant picks his spots and his matchups in one-on-one situations, and he allows himself to score within the flow of the game. Stagnation has always been the other edge of the sword in isolation sequences, but with Durant, that part of the blade is rendered dull in comparison to the sharpness and precision with which he uses to destroy defenses.
Durant and the Warriors have always been a match made in heaven. Despite Durant’s tendency to go solo on isolation possessions, he has shown on many occasions that he is more than willing to play within the system. Being immersed into the concept of egalitarian basketball hasn’t hampered his ability to score; instead, it has enhanced it.
These sequences show the willingness with which Durant’s teammates help him to score. In the fast break, where Durant is deadly enough as is, Draymond Green willingly seals off a defender to give Durant a clear lane for the dunk; Curry himself sets a back screen on Durant’s defender to allow him to cut inside for an easy dunk; and Andre Iguodala works in perfect harmony with Durant as he fakes his defender into overplaying him, instead going up to meet Iguodala’s lob for the alley-oop.
But it has been Durant’s willingness to play defense that has been a pleasant sight for Warriors fans’ eyes. While his slim and slender frame — complete with his 7-foot-4-inch wingspan — has helped him make shots that are nigh impossible to block, it has also given him plenty of potential to be a disruptor of passing lanes and a protector of the rim.
Durant’s career high in blocks was previously established against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 20, 2017. Against the Kings, he matched his career high of 7 blocks, most of them consisting of Iguodala-esque clean strips. The most eye-catching of them, however, was a chase down block that required the use of Durant’s long strides and freakishly lengthy reach to spike the ball away.
Steph Curry: The greatest shooter of all time
During the post game press conference, Steve Kerr was asked if he thought Curry is the greatest shooter of all time — a bold question, given the fact that it is of the “no-brainer” variety. But Kerr didn’t respond with sarcasm, nor did he brush away the question due to its obvious answer.
“I would. Ray Allen and Reggie Miller obviously have been able to claim that mantle before,” said Kerr. “I’ve never seen anybody capable of shooting the three in 3 different ways: spot-up, running off screens, and off the dribble. Ray Allen probably comes the closest, but nobody’s done what Steph has done the way he shoots the three with that type of range, off of multiple dribbles, creating space for himself. I think he’s the best.”
Steve Kerr on if Steph Curry is the best shooter ever pic.twitter.com/wrOlilFXeR— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 22, 2019
It’s been an oft-repeated claim for several years now, but there is absolutely no doubt in the minds of the majority that Curry not only is the best shooter alive today, but he is the best shooter of all time. As Kerr mentioned, what differentiates Curry from other elite shooters is the variety with which he shoots the three. Sneaky athleticism and a preternatural ability to be accurate help him out greatly, but it has been his penchant for working hard and practicing his shots day in and day out that have been the catalysts for his rise to elite superstardom.
Against the Kings — whom he previously victimized with 10 three-point shots in their third meeting of the season — he buried yet another 10 threes on 16 attempts, good for 62.5 percent. The sheer volume of threes that he takes (11.6 per game) — on a success rate of 45 percent — is what makes him absolutely sublime, unmatched by no one in terms of sharpshooting proficiency. He is, quite simply, the undisputed king of the three-point shot.
Weapon number one: Curry’s spot up ability, which has often been the equivalent of him shooting practice threes. His feet are often set, his balance is perfect, and his form is a work of art. All he needs to do after catching the ball is to set his eyes upon the target, and the result is the sound of upended nylon.
Weapon number two: Curry’s ability to shoot after running off screens, which the Warriors run a gamut of in an attempt to get one of either Curry, Thompson, or Durant to break free for open looks. Thompson and Durant are both deadly off of screens, but Curry turns into a weapon of mass destruction, which usually sends defenses scrambling to close out on him. On those instances when they are caught napping, Curry makes them pay dearly.
Weapon number three: Curry’s ability to shoot off the dribble. Known for possessing one of the best handles in the league, Curry has the rare ability to be in complete control of his defender. Like a puppeteer stringing along his wooden plaything, he uses his dribbling and footwork to subtly direct his defender toward a state of helplessness. Once at his complete mercy, Curry goes up and buries a multitude of threes right in his defenders’ faces.
And thus, another chapter is added to the lore of the best duo in the modern NBA. Amid the rejuvenated talks of the Slim Reaper leaving the Bay Area for the Big Apple, Durant continues to not let the media gossipmongering affect his overall focus and level of play. While everyone else in the wider NBA world is theorycrafting and analyzing how he and his potential point guard partner in New York, Kyrie Irving, will work and mesh together, he continues to show empirical proof that he is in perfect harmony with Curry.
Curry is a generational talent, always imitated but impossible to replicate — this goes for his exploits on the court and off of it. He is a shining example of an excellent human being, who gives a lot of himself for the betterment of the people around him, including his teammates. By now, Durant should know what Curry brings to the table.
By all means, he is free to pack up and leave for the Knicks, if the rumors and speculation turn out to be true. He may find a level of happiness there that he is yet to find with the Warriors, despite winning two championships, two Finals MVPs, and the potential to win a third championship and maybe even more.
But one luxury he cannot absolutely replace is playing alongside his peer, his equal in many aspects, and his partner in basketball crime. With all due respect to Irving and other point guards in the league, none of them are Stephen Curry — and none of them will ever be.
58 down, 24 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com