Stephen Curry was the personification of flammable last night. Everything that left his hands quickly burned up on its way to the rim, like a comet shooting through the Earth’s atmosphere. It was as if Curry was a lighter and the ball a sphere lathered with gasoline, causing immediate ignition upon touching his hands, almost like he was permanently stuck in NBA Jam mode.
With David Lee missing last night’s Knicks-Warriors game due to suspension, Curry was asked to provide even more of a spark than is usually asked of him, so he did his best to become a human match. Every time that leather Spalding ball left Curry’s fingertips, creating the slightest bit of friction, I envisioned him scrapping the phosphorus head of a match against the emery on the side of the box. It didn’t take long for the nylon nets of Madison Square Garden to become engulfed in the flames that Curry’s picture perfect jumpshots were concocting.
Curry completed the most impressive game of the NBA season last night, one of the best games in the history of the most storied arena (Madison Square Garden) in the league and perhaps the greatest shooting performance of all-time. He played all 48 minutes, dropped 54 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds and compiled three steals, all while shooting 18-of-28 from the field (64%) and an incomprehensible 11-of-13 from three (85%), setting a franchise record for makes from behind the arc. Curry’s night started off as a continuation of his incredible performance against the Pacers the night before – 38 points on 14-of-20 shooting from the field (70%) and 7-of-10 shooting from deep (70%) – and developed into one of the most magical displays of basketball brilliance that I have ever seen.
Curry’s place amongst the elite point guards in the league is a very interesting topic of debate during such a point guard rich day and age in the NBA and will certainly gain steam after something like last night. There’s a legitimate case to be made that Curry will wind up being the greatest three-point shooter of all-time – he’s shooting 46% from deep on seven attempts per game on the season and 45% from three on five shots a game for his career – and his silky smooth shot often overshadows the rest of his offensive game, which is also very good. And though his advanced defensive numbers are poor, Mark Jackson constantly reiterates that Curry has done what is asked of him defensively, and the eye test somewhat agrees that Curry has done well in Golden State’s revamped pick-and-roll defensive scheme.
As of right now, Curry ranks fifth in the NBA amongst point guards in PER at 20.75. The four above him are Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, four all-NBA caliber performers. If we go back to last season, Curry was sixth in the league in PER (21.23) amongst point guards, with Derrick Rose bumping Curry from the top five. I’d also acknowledge the potential for Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo to be in the top five conversation at some point in the future, so I’d be comfortable saying that Curry is definitely a top eight point guard in basketball, with the potential to crack the top five if his ankles ever mature like his game has.
The thing that makes Curry unique in my mind is that he blurs the line between point guard and off guard better than any of the other top point guards. Does Westbrook occasionally play off the ball? Sure, but teams would much prefer it to him attacking the rim. Ditto for Parker. With Curry, you have to pick your poison.
Curry can be an ultra aggressive ball-handler with the starting unit at tipoff and by the end of the game easily morph into the role of a super shooting guard when Jarret Jack is playing point. Curry is equally adept at running a pick-and-roll as he is at coming off of a screen and getting of a quick shot, which is an underrated skill for a point guard, particularly for one that plays with a secondary ball handler as good as Jack.
Here is the list of guards that have dropped 54 points or more on at least 64% shooting in the history of the NBA: Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Curry. The number of players in league history to shoot at least 80% from three in a game on 13 or more attempts is even shorter: Curry. There is an infinite amount of criteria that you can add to the query and the results are always the same: Curry had one of the rarest nights in league history last night. And describing it in historical context doesn’t even do the performance justice.
Outside of Irving and Kevin Durant, I’m not sure there is another point guard in the league capable of putting on a shooting clinic like the one Curry had last night. Watching Curry go from hot shooting night to profound display of talent was enchanting; his ear-to-ear smile, which grew with every make, enhancing the viewing experience while his version of Mark Jackson’s famous shimmy shake only slightly scarring what was an otherwise clinquant performance.
And oh yeah – I knew I was forgetting something – Stephen Curry’s Warriors lost to the Knicks, 109-105.
The best way I can describe what it is like watching Monta Ellis play is to compare to watching an episode of The Walking Dead; I watch to see the next ingenious and aesthetically appealing move he’s got up his sleeve (yes, I am a fan of zombie slaying), but, ultimately, I know that even his best offensive contributions matter little in the grand scheme of things given his reluctance to defensive fundamentals and faulty shot selection (can we get a decent plot, please?). What Monta gives you in innovation, he takes back due to his lack of traditional skills and habits.
If Ellis would do something as simple as crouching down in a defensive stance on a frequent basis, he’d be an easier player to appreciate, but there is always something to mar his greatest work, whether it is on the next possession or the next night. But alas, Ellis is largely the same player he was a few years ago, wowing you with his tremendously packaged set of scoring and passing skills on some nights, while forcing you to change the channel out of anger twice as often.
Ellis put together a perfect combination of what makes him fun and what makes him horrid last night against the Rockets. As has been the case since J.J. Redick was brought in at the trade deadline, Ellis spent the majority of last night’s game playing both guard positions. When Brandon Jennings was in the game, he was the off guard, and when Redick subbed in for Jennings, Ellis ran point. Ellis did a tremendous job of getting his teammates involved last night, racking up 13 assists in a variety of ways. He got players open on straight dribble drives, ran Milwaukee’s offensive sets well, got guys good looks in transition and generally made great reads when he was looking at the game through the prism of a passer.
Of course, it’s hard for Ellis to keep his Chris Paul shades on for 48 minutes a night. There were still forced mid-range jumpers, some awkward shots at the rim and six three-point attempts despite the fact that he is shooting 24% from three. For the game, Ellis shot 5-of-17 (29%) from outside of the paint and 38% overall. Monta’s incessant heaving from 16-23 feet was once slightly defensible due to his league average field goal percentage from that distance. But now even that has gone by the wayside: Ellis is shooting a career low 32% on mid-range jumpers, and yet hes still taking 5.2 such shots a game.
Ellis was also a terror defensively, for both teams. Ellis was all over the place on the defensive end for the second straight night, racking up six steals for his second game in a row. And then there was Ellis leaving James Harden to double Jeremy Lin on a 1/2 pick-and-roll, freeing Harden for a wide open three, and Ellis wondering into the paint as a post player fiddled around, jumbling his team’s rotation and costing the Bucks three points. He giveth, and he taketh away.
This game showed you every aspect of Monta Ellis, which essentially boils down to a bunch of moments that make you say “Wow” in applause and disdain. As a fan of entertaining basketball, I enjoy watching Monta play in a vacuum; his brazen attitude is so out of place, especially when compared to new teammate J.J. Redick, that I find it oddly refreshing, and his ability to play so many minutes on a consistent basis is flat out impressive. But when analyzing the game, it’s impossible to see Ellis as anything more than a net negative and a player that hurts his team more than he helps it. We could hold out hope for that to change, but if that’s your stance, I can tell you that your future is full of frustration and clanked 20-footers.
After the Bucks secured a pair of clutch offensive rebounds, Brandon Jennings stood 30 feet from the basket, waving for his teammates to clearout of the lane. With 18 seconds left in a tie game, Jennings, who was on the bench for the majority of crunchtime, was preparing for a hero ball shot and a game-winning highlight to put on his resume. With 12 seconds left, Larry Sanders comes up from the weakside as if he’s going to run a pick-and-roll with Jennings; Jennings waves him off. A couple seconds later, Sanders starts towards Jennings again; Jennings waves him off once more. At this point, we know the shot is going up. Jennings is either going to win the game or send it to overtime.
Jennings stares Jeremy Lin in the eyes as the clock ticks down to single digits, stuttering his dribble to size-up Lin and the clock, conjuring up his post-game celebration in his head. But then, the unexpected happened: Lin plays sound positional defense and Jennings, who never made a strong move to get free, is stuck 21 feet from the basket with no live dribble and a man baring down on him.
But there is hope. With 2.1 seconds left, out of the corner of his eye, Jennings spots Ellis sweeping across the floor towards the top of the key. With such little time left on the clock, Ellis may receive the ball with no time left to fire a shot, but Jennings is better off not ending the game with the ball in his hands after violently declining any attempt at an actual play with the time winding down. He makes the pass to Ellis.
It’s an inaccurate toss that forces Ellis to catch the ball across his body, but he pulls it down with 1.2 seconds left on the shot clock, leaving no time to set up a normal shot.
But what’s a normal shot to Monta Ellis?
Ellis grabs the ball, swiftly squares his shoulder, leaps off one leg and fires a 28-foot three over the outstretched arms of Chandler Parsons.
The ball circles the rim, comes completely out, bounces off the back iron and falls in.
Monta Ellis’ Bucks won 110-107.