Rarely are sports more confounding than when Steph Curry plays. Golden State’s wunderkind has a way of turning masterful displays of athletic grace into something as bewildering as calculus or neural science. That’s what his performances are, after all: Riveting studies in the mathematic and cerebral requisites for such ambitious and cutting-edge athletic pursuits.
On Saturday, we witnessed the peak of Curry’s personal discovery, the ultimate realization of the power of an earnest mind and enthusiastic soul. His performance against the Thunder, rescuing his team from what seemed a sure defeat at the hands of an eager opponent in one of the few arenas that can turn the “Oracle Effect” against the Warriors, was as demonstrative and elegant as artistic expression gets in the sporting realm.
This game was nearly an odd dramatic turn for the defending champs, what with the third best player on a 52-5 team going on a profanity-laced tirade that required a police inquisition during halftime. On top of that, Curry had has own personal drama to overcome after he exited the game with an injury to his once-troublesome left ankle during the third quarter. Curry returned in the third quarter and proceeded to hit 7 3-pointers during the final three periods of the game. The Warriors were down 11 with five minutes left in the fourth before Curry rattled off two 3s to help the Warriors force overtime, where he added three more 3s, including the breathtaking winner with 0.6 seconds left in the game.
Curry’s final shot might be the most memorable highlight in what has been a season full of peaks for the reigning MVP. On the fateful possession, Curry leisurely trotted up the floor, perfectly aligning his shot and and the clock in his head. When the ball left his hands, the whole arena knew that they weren’t witnessing some desperation heave; this was the shot Curry wanted to take. He sought out a 38-footer and drained it. This was no fluke. This was the latest in a series of expansions of his range, of his potential, of his control of the sport.
His final tallies: 46 points, 12 3s, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2-0 against the Thunder.
Curry’s performance against Oklahoma City, as well as his 42-point game against Miami and 51-point game against Orlando on Wednesday and Thursday, was a stunning repartee directed at the basketball dignitaries of yesteryear who can’t fathom such effortless production existing in their era. Curry impugned the critiques of one Oscar Robertson by subverting his tenet that (supposedly) inadequate modern defenses being bereft of solutions for Curry mitigates his brilliance. Even the most fastidious and sectarian observer can understand why Curry is glorified after what he did to the Thunder. No defense in any era has an answer for that performance.
Curry is inevitable, instantaneous, indefensible and ingenious. He is a unique genre of offensive erudite, one who lives to expand the realm of possibility, shifting the parameters of the game with his seductive style. The basketball court is a canvas for his creative expression and he mystifies and terrifies with a distinctly contemporary flair. Often it is the purely athletic feats that awe fans the most, those plays where the athletes soar to a different stratosphere. Curry captivates while grounded, applying his celestial talent in a manner more familiar to the laymen, yet his feats are no more comprehensible than any of the mind-numbing tricks and triumphs that Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine showcased during the dunk contest.
Curry’s ability even captivates his peers. I’m not just talking about the outpouring of attention his performance against Oklahoma City got from NBA stars across the league; the disbelief among the Thunder players on all 12 of Curry’s 3-pointers was evident. There were moments Saturday when Curry’s showcase only served to provoke Kevin Durant to match him, but on most nights Curry’s downpours are deflating for opponents.
Players around the league dream of having Curry’s ethereal gifts, for his exclusive talents have a way of making the best basketball players in the world feel inadequate and uncertain. His makes elicit a morose feeling from opponents; even Russell Westbrook, perhaps the league’s most arrogant player, couldn’t top Curry’s unique brand of braggadocio. Most professional athletes find it genuinely difficult to admit someone is better than them, but Curry might make that concession inevitable. After the game, as he is wont to do, Westbrook downplayed Curry’s outing, but deep down, can he possibly claim superiority over the league’s most electrifying headliner in the past decade (or more)?
Although he can be a braggart at times, Curry’s sanguine nature is appealing to those with even the most stringent sensibilities. He’s simultaneously tempestuous and adventurous, capable of providing opposing fans with a thrill even as he eviscerates the hometown team. He manages to be incredibly individualistic while displaying a firm commitment to altruism. Even when Curry isn’t directly distributing for his teammates (which he does as well as any point guard not named Chris Paul, by the way), his mere presence amplifies the qualities of his teammates. The more attention on Curry, the more space for the rest of the Warriors.
The totality of his repertoire is what makes Curry special. Psychologically, Curry has it all: The inventiveness, the audacity, the belief, the will. Skillwise, there are just as many layers: The patronizing dribble routines, the capricious handle, the myriad of stylish finishes at the rim and, of course, the picturesque and combustible release.
What’s worse for the rest of the league is that his current batch of tools isn’t sharp enough for Curry. Imagine an unsolvable threat to society that has an uncontrollable potential for evolution. That is Curry’s place in the NBA. Curry is constantly seeking to increase his potency; even Walter White wasn’t this obsessed with obtaining 100% purity.
Curry is vigilant in his hunt for uncharted territory. He is a walking precedent, one who constantly forces the emending of the record books. There are often segments in games where it doesn’t even seem as if Curry is competing against the opposition. During the fourth quarter and overtime against OKC, Curry was trying to outperform his own standard of preposterousness more than he was trying to score on his man. And he did. He broke his own record for 3-pointers in a season with 24 games to play, and he (finally) tied Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall for the most 3s in a game with 12, the last of which will haunt Oklahomans more than Clay Bennett’s fracking ties.
It is impossible to know what boundaries Curry will shatter next. As much as this season is about the Warriors pursuing back-to-back titles, it also exists as a playground for Curry to defy conventional restraints and define his capabilities. After what we have seen during the past week, it isn’t crazy to think the next stage of Curry’s development might be literal perfection. And what is more enthralling than watching one of the most melodious athletes of all time try to uncover the limits of his potential?