OAKLAND, Calif. -- In thrashing the Washington Wizards 139-115, Stephen Curry cast a spell on the crowd, deploying magic on the level of last year's unanimous MVP season. The numbers in his 42-point, 8-assist performance (15-of-22 field goals) were impressive but don't do justice to some of the highlights involved. Not only did Curry loop in 9 3-pointers, he also attacked the rim beautifully and creatively, perhaps better than he has in any other game.
Before the game, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a quip in response to conjecture burbling on the media fringe. When asked about reincorporating the still rehabilitating Kevin Durant, Kerr joked, "I may not play him. We are so much better without him."
The line was received with the laugh it intended to seek. It is, after all, way too early to assume the Warriors are better without Durant's superstar services. They did, indeed, post a superior point differential before Durant's Feb. 28 injury in Washington, D.C. Not only that, but the Warriors probably will have a greater need for Durant in the playoffs, when the back cuts role players are currently feasting on get snuffed out by a locked in defense.
At the same time, it's hard to deny that Curry looks revived in Durant's extended absence. It's also arguable that this 11-game win streak qualifies as Golden State's best stretch of play this season. For all the quality Durant provided, there was a difficulty in adjusting roles and finding shots for everybody. With Durant out and restrained offensive participants such as Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw added to the mix, the pecking order is clearer.
With the roles around him defined, Curry is trending more toward the kind of play that had him ranked as arguably the league's top player over a two-season span. In a smaller stretch, specifically a 1:02 span, he reminded the thrilled Oracle crowd of that epoch. That was how long it took Curry to score 10 points near the end of the second quarter (two 3-pointers, two buckets in the paint). The most impressive of the shots came from directly under the rim, after Curry faked two Wizards into the air with a hesitation after receiving an Andre Iguodala bounce pass. Curry flipped the ball up, blind, with his off hand, and it caromed home.
It was spectacular and probably not even a top-two highlight on the evening. It has to contend with a first-quarter sequence in which Curry faked Marcin Gortat into a 360 to oblivion before he splashed an open 3.
"I knew I got the pump fake and he turned the opposite way. He kind of lost vision," Curry recalled, in a description that was generous to Gortat.
It also has to contend with a third-quarter play in which Curry leaped between three Wizards for a reverse layup from an angle that taunted physics. That one was probably the crown jewel of this night.
"When you see all those guys converging, you've got to get crafty," Curry said of the play. "I'm not a guy who's going to finish over the rim any style. So, you've got to figure out a different way."
Curry overshadowed all on this evening, but Shaun Livingston's fantastic night (8-of-10, 17 points) served as a reminder that he has been rounding into form. Livingston kicked things off with a soaring reverse jam off a long Draymond Green pass (incidentally, Green ended the evening with a triple-double).
"I always tell these guys, if you want the lob I'm throwing it," Green said of the play. "And if you ask me for it once, next time I'm seeing you if you halfway open I'm throwing it again. So I just threw it up. I know [Livingston] can still get up, but I wasn't expecting that one." Livingston, like Iguodala and David West (who both submitted fine performances), have stepped up in Durant's absence. Curry's recent brilliance dominates headlines, but the winning would not have been possible without these veterans seizing upon this moment.
Still, Curry gets those headlines for a reason. There's no player in this league more electric than Curry when he's tapping into his creative side -- playing free and loose. Over this 11-game streak, Curry is averaging 27.0 points, 7.9 assists and 4.8 3-pointers. He also has a 50 percent field goal percentage along with 67.2 percent true shooting. The Warriors might not be better without Durant, but Curry is certainly looking better. Golden State can get a title with both superstars sacrificing, but as a natural consequence, nights like this will be few and far between.