NEW ORLEANS -- For a few minutes Stephen Curry smiled into his phone. Upon scoring 28 points in a third quarter, and 53 total in the Golden State Warriors' 134-120 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Curry was a happy heap, tucked into his locker, swaddled in large ice bags, flanked by an oversized bag of popcorn -- he loves his popcorn and heartily thanks whichever ball boy provides it.
At times like this, he looks like a kid, the rookie teammates used to call “middle school.” He’s non-threatening, “adorable” as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard repeatedly calls him. It’s hard to compartmentalize the appearance and separate it from the lethality of the athlete. Is this the man who burned the New Orleans defense to the ground? Is this the man who keeps unleashing untold horrors on opposing defenders, inventing new ways to humiliate foes one Vine at a time? It seems implausible, which is perhaps why certain older hoops pundits have been slow to accept it. A skinny point guard is dominating the most fearsome, physically gifted athletes on earth. Who would have thought? Who still denies it?
Draymond Green has seen the building storm for some time. He welcomes it. He keeps telling Curry the same thing: “Man, you acting like this your league." What once was imagined is getting actualized. The confidence of an MVP season and a championship just perpetuates, fueling a great player further.
Here are the stats through three games. Curry has scored 118 points in 99 minutes on 68 shots. In 33 minutes per contest, he’s claiming 39.3 points, 7.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 5.7 made 3s and only 1.7 turnovers. It’s only three games, but what an incredible three games.
Saturday night was yet another example of Curry’s dominance over larger defenders. Billboard-sized Anthony Davis bats the ball away from Curry at the arc, causing Curry to retreat a few paces. Victory for the imposing, long defender? Nope. Curry casually roped a 31-foot 3-pointer in the way a man yawns. His “aw shucks” summary of the shot: “That was a dumb shot that went in.” All told, Curry drained four 3-pointers over Davis’ outstretched, flying limbs. The supposedly feeble is making everyone’s efforts look futile.
“How far was I off?” Curry, now done with his phone, wanted to know how his 118 points through the first three games stacked up next to Wilt Chamberlain’s record through three. When told it was 158 points, Curry recoiled, “Oh God!” So yes, there are limits to what this guy can do. It’s just not clear we’ve found those limits yet. This is true maybe for the third season in a row. Curry is the rare NBA player who wasn’t expected to become a superstar until the day he became one. Davis? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? They were anointed prior to greatness. Curry has rudely jumped the line. And as he embraces the new reality, he’s only improving, it seems.
“He's getting to the hole a lot better,” Green assessed. “He can choose the spots when to go, he's turning the corner like crazy, getting to the hole.” With each game, Curry develops a keener sense of how defenses react to his 3-pointer. The headline after this particular outing might be “53 points” or “28 points in the quarter.” For much of the second half, Curry also devastated the Pelicans with his passing. If you require attention from half court forward, that attention can be leveraged in many ways. Curry is finding the ways.
To hear him tell it, the recent explosion isn’t about being ranked fifth among MVP candidates by NBA GMs, or what Ty Lawson said, or what Kyrie Irving said, or even what Alvin Gentry said when the current Pelicans coach and former Warriors assistant called Davis and James the league’s two best players.
When asked about his motivation, Curry, ever the optimist, says, “Take advantage of the opportunity.” He continues, “People think we weren't supposed to be the champs last year, I wasn't supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”
The improvement is somehow starting to perpetuate. Rhetorical savant Green, between pregnant pauses, says it best: “You know it's one thing to play like it. It's one thing to score like it. It's one thing to have a season like he had last year. But you get that mindset and everybody know? And see it?” His face contorts, as though moved by sympathy for the victims. “It's tough. And I tell him, ‘You acting like it.’ That's dangerous.”