With 7 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz, one of basketball’s more remarkable streaks appeared to suddenly end. Rudy Gobert, he of the 9-foot, 9-inch standing reach, took a flying swipe at a Stephen Curry 3-pointer. It’s difficult to definitively discern whether that swat altered the ball’s trajectory, but the shot airballed wide right. Gobert motioned to the scorer’s table that he blocked it, but he wasn’t credited. After the game, Gobert reiterated that he blocked the shot.
He was adamant for a reason: Curry has yet to have a 3-pointer blocked all season.
Even in a season of staggering Curry stats, this one stands out. The Curry 3 is the new Kareem skyhook -- a virtually unstoppable, efficiency-unlocking cheat code. This iteration of inexorable dominance just so happens to come from a 6-3 point guard, though.
There have been so many memorable scenes from Curry’s “unblocked” season. Think Kawhi Leonard trailing from behind and swatting air on a Curry rainbow. Or Curry staring down Steven Adams before uncorking a 28-foot strike, with a follow-through that hits Adams’ hand. In Curry’s 53-point game at New Orleans, he tossed four 3-pointers over Anthony Davis’ outstretched arms. The league’s greatest, longest athletes keep reaching for Curry’s 3-pointers, finding only futility in their palms.
While it’s true that the blocked 3 is an uncommon play, it shouldn’t be this uncommon for the league’s premier 3-point shooter. Curry has attempted 662 3-pointers this season, 179 more than the next guy down the list, teammate Klay Thompson. Of the next three players behind Curry in attempts, Thompson has been swatted four times, Damian Lillard five times and James Harden six times.
It has been nearly a year since Curry had his 3-point shot blocked in a regular-season game (Terrence Jones was able to nab one in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, after Curry returned from falling on his head). The most recent recorded instance of a blocked Curry 3 is March 18, 2015, against the Atlanta Hawks, on an attempt he had to force up. He was trapped in the corner, with the shot clock expiring and little room to work, and DeMarre Carroll seized the rare opportunity.
Since then, Curry has attempted 789 3-point shots, unblocked. He has done it in a league primed to fear and react to his movements behind the arc. He has done it against defenses that often switch big men in his way.
While blocked catch-and-shoot 3s are rare, Curry’s doing this on mostly pull-up attempts (6.2 per game this season, 372 total). Pull-up 3s are blocked at more than 1 percent of attempts, nearly twice the rate of catch-and-shoot tries. This should have happened by now, especially with Curry taking far more 3-pointers than anyone else ever has.
So far it’s the triumph of balance, lateral movement and speed of release. Curry can step back or go side-to-side, and defenders are struggling to guess which one.
Perhaps the first blocked Curry 3 of the season already happened. Maybe Gobert’s lobbying efforts will be rewarded, and he’ll retroactively get the credit he seeks. If Gobert indeed is the man who blocked a Curry 3, it would be fitting. Curry’s shot travels at an arc only the longest player can reach. It takes 9 feet, 9 inches to stop this normal-sized, abnormally talented man.