Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stephen Curry, The Man Who Ends Conversations

Not In Picture: The Basket
Tonight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors played, honestly, one of their worst games of the year. Their bigs were crushed routinely, with a 2-to-1 rebounding deficit that you rarely see outside of a college basketball tune-up game. Klay Thompson didn't make his first three until the fourth quarter, and took a good number of them. Draymond Green had some kind of meltdown in the locker room at half time. No Dub benchie played all that well, and their third leading scorer was Andre Iguodala, with 12. They were down double digits in every quarter of the game, and led for less than a minute.

On the other hand, they had Stephen Curry.

OKC played *very* well. Their early defense against the Dubs was as good as I've seen in the NBA this year. Kevin Durant was the best player on the floor for most of the game, and Russell Westbrook applied his new-found Jedi ability to be a point guard first, and a superstar second. They were at home and rested. Golden State was on the final game of a 7-game road trip. Curry went down for half of the third quarter with a rolled ankle.

On the other hand, Curry came back.

The reigning MVP tied the NBA record for made threes in a game with 12 (on 16 attempts, also absurd) and the game-winner is probably going to be the lead highlight of the 2014-15 regular season highlight roll. After rebounding the miss, the Dubs didn't call timeout with 5 seconds left. Instead, they advanced the ball, and Curry simply launched from 32 feet -- at least, that's the official listing, others have it at 38 -- and drained it.

Take a look again at the screen shot of where Curry is, and how much time is left on the clock. Every other player in the league would get closer to the hoop. Many would try to find Thompson, who might be able to beat Westbrook to the rack. Maybe you call time, given that you've advanced it to the front court, and 2.8 seconds is plenty of time to get a set play, screens and execution. Instead, he just hoists it.

It's a terrible shot for anyone else in the NBA, but not, it turns out, for Curry... who is now 35 of 52 on shots of 28 to 50 feet this season. Dude is making 67% of his attempts from the part of the floor where no one else in the NBA is likely to even be routinely guarded, which is  statistically better than a 100% diet of all 2-point dunks.

There are, of course, old-school guys who hate what Curry is doing to the game, the same way that old-school guys hated Babe Ruth for hitting home runs instead of bunting, or Wilt Chamberlain for dunking the basketball, instead of laying it in. What they think, of course, does not matter, not that we really need to be rude to people who built the league, made comparatively little, and endured racism that makes today's look like weak tea. But still.

Here's how good Curry is... he made a game with many missed layups, blown free throws, questionable coaching decisions (I'm not sure what it is about Durant and Westbrook that makes a coach forget to swap offense for defense late, or why a team can't move the ball in crunch time), whiffed ref calls and the unbearable ABC/ESPN prime time crew absolutely riveting. My Twitter feed thought this was the game of the year, and I guess it was... only because it was the latest game between these teams, and OKC seems unique in being able to stay close to the Dubs routinely.

What Curry is doing to the game is defying description. We've got a lifetime of knowing what a good shot is, and what it is not... and then there's this guy. We've got a sense of knowing that the best pure shooters in the league are always stand still catch and release guys who aren't also accomplished point guards... and then there's this guy. We know that the best way to get a three point shooter off his game is to make him shoot off the dribble, and Curry might actually be better at that. We know that the further away you are from the rim, the harder it is to make a shot, and yeah, um, maybe not. We know that basketball is a game of bigs, except that Curry is the best player on the planet right now, and just won a road game against a top five opponent playing a borderline "A" game without all that much help.

I'm not sure what else to say about him now, frankly. The Dubs have a lot more than Curry, so he doesn't have to play monster minutes and do this all the time. If this was old-school NBA, when you could beat the crap out of the guy as a strategic measure, it might not work as well. He's in the best moment for his skill set, in a system that's ideal for his gifts. If he were on some struggling .500 level team, he might play and score more, but he wouldn't do so any more efficiently, or be any more fun to watch.

Eventually, there is going to be another shooter in the same realm as Curry. Maybe he slips up, or that his dead eye doesn't hold up over the years. The world is likely filled with kids hoisting from 40 feet now, trying to be the new Steph, and while they are going to make basketball unwatchable for a while, a new crop of distance monsters will arise. Too many ordinary sized humans can be this obsessive, especially when there's this much reward in the long run.

And in the short?

The game will be re-made, in front of our eyes, in fits and starts and with a tremendous amount of old-timer hate...

All of which will be shut down, one make at a time, one win after another.

Super long threes, in a tie game, for the win, off a miss, without a timeout.

Best percentage shot in the Warrior playbook, and allowed them to win a game where they out-rebounded by 31.

Amazing world we're living in, right?

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