The pure joy of watching Steph Curry return to otherworldly form

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May 8, 2002
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The Golden State Warriors guard missed most of last season through injury but he is exactly the right kind of sick at the momentWhen news broke last Friday that Seth Curry had tested positive for the coronavirus, reactions were split. On one side, you had Philadelphia 76ers fans bemoaning the loss of a key player. On the other, you had all the doomscrollers who had scanned over that Woj bomb too quickly and assumed Steph Curry was the sick one. Boy, are we – I mean they relieved.No disrespect to Seth, who was having his best month as a pro before being forced into quarantine. It’s just that, well, his brother Steph is being Steph again. After missing all but five games of the bubble season with a broken finger, the two-time MVP has been under considerable pressure to produce for a Golden State Warriors outfit that’s been down on nuclear-grade firepower since Kevin Durant took his talents to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson tore his achilles after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. A lesser talent might have buckled under such strain. But Curry has done just the opposite.Through the season’s first 10 games, Curry trailed only Washington’s Bradley Beal in scoring with 28.6 points per game – a figure boosted in large measure by an exceptional three-point shooting touch that, these days it seems, owes less to patrilineal ties to Charlotte Hornets all-time scoring leader Dell Curry than to tens of thousands of hours of reps in the gym.> 5+ minutes without a miss. > > Stephen. Curry.> > — Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 26, 2020Just this past Boxing Day, Curry made himself a trending topic after making a staggering 105 straight threes after practice – leading to the inevitable ribbing from his coach. (“He choked,” cracked Steve Kerr, still the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point percentage. “Couldn’t make the 106th one.”) Eight days later Curry avenged a loss to Portland on his home floor by lighting up the Blazers for a career-best 62 points in a scant 36 minutes, shooting nearly as accurately from inside the arc (18 of 31) as outside (eight of 16). Five days after that against the Clippers, Curry led the Warriors to a furious comeback win, shooting nine of 14 from deep against constant double coverage.Curry isn’t just catching and shooting or letting ‘em rip from just inside half court. He scores in traffic, off screens, with that mended left hand. Against Portland he gave Damian Lillard, who set his own scoring record with 61 points against the Dubs last January, all the work he could handle while clapping back at critics who have dared say the Blazers’ All-Star point guard is better. Prominent in the Greek chorus of Curry doubters is the former workaday center Channing Frye who, on his first-rate podcast, wondered whether the Warriors sharpshooter could be considered a truly great player if he fails to drag his shorthanded team back to the NBA finals. “You know the Jordan meme?” Curry said after the game. “I take all that personally.”As well he should. If ever there were a dominant player with an unimpeachable resume, it’s Curry – a repeat MVP and three-time NBA champion whose playoff victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder would prompt that Durant guy to switch sides. What’s more, he might have won two more rings if Durant and Thompson didn’t go down in the 2019 finals and his 73-win juggernaut didn’t give up a 3-1 finals lead in 2016. There’s no question Curry has overachieved for a 6ft 3in wisp of a talent who fell to seventh overall spot in the 2009 draft behind the likes of Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio and Tyreke Evans. Curry has further dominated at the next level by mastering the game’s most far-out shot.Whereas Kerr made a total of 726 threes over the course of his 16 pro seasons at a 45.4% rate, Curry, the sixth-most precise longball chucker in league history, had sunk 2,537 threes at a 43.3% clip as of this writing, and figures to overtake Reggie Miller in second place on the total makes list by season’s end. Even more impressive: Curry is the only player among the league’s most accurate distance shooters to average more than 15.4 points for his career. Not only has Curry never been shackled to a situational role in the way shooters of his ilk tend to be, but one could easily see him taking such an assignment to keep playing into his 40s a la Vince Carter. Heck, that’s essentially the role to which Seth Curry had been relegated before an eighth-year promotion in Philly – where he was averaging a personal-best 17 points and a league-leading 59.5% from deep before Dat Rona pulled him out of the lineup – and he’s two years younger than Steph.And yet: somehow, hoops skeptics still aren’t quite sure what to make of the Splash Brother. They can’t call him the best scorer because it slights Jordan. They can’t call him the best point guard because it slights Magic and Isiah. So they call him the best shooter, which barely scratches the surface. Ray Allen was a great shooter. Steph Curry is a walking, talking cheat code whose beyond, yes, beyond full-court range literally created space for the NBA’s current offensive boom times. He’s right up there with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who caused the dunk to be outlawed when he was still Lew Alcindor), George Mikan (who ushered in the three-second rule) and Wilt Chamberlain (who widened the lane). Twenty years from now, after a four-point line or Rock N’ Jock-style marker has been standardized, we’re all gonna be talking about how Curry – not LeBron – should be the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.It was, of course, still fun watching Jamal Murray and Luka Dončić light up the scoreboard and make significant playoff runs while Curry was on the mend. And it’s been interesting to see Lillard and James Harden stake their respective claims to being the fastest gun in the West. But when Curry is cooking, maaan, there isn’t much that rivals it for spectacle. He’ll make you click away from the NFL playoff game, or track him on a second screen. He’ll make you gasp as he buries a 40-footer in transition or sinks a half-court shot at the buzzer. Some nights he’ll do it all with a genial, mouthguard-grinding smile that makes his mind-bending physics lesson look like the stuff of Sesame Street. And on others, like Sunday night against the Raptors, he’ll keep fighting through terrible slumps.In a world where bad news rolls in on the half-second, not least the mounting number of Covid cases that have stricken the NBA since it insisted on taking play outside the Disney bubble, there’s considerable comfort in being dazzled by a man throwing a ball into a hoop time and again from all corners of your TV set, willing his once-vaunted franchise back up the mountain. If that doesn’t make him a bona fide hoops god or, failing that, knock down Allen Iverson as the league’s ultimate pound-for-pound superstar, it at the very least makes Curry the sickest player dribbling right now. Not Seth Curry sick, of course. No, the other kind of sick where only the contagion risk is a giddy enthusiasm for an otherworldly performer who may well be pushing beyond the peak of his awesome powers. To be sure, it’s not the kind of thing you want to scroll past too quickly.

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