Steph Curry was shaking his head for most of the fourth quarter against the Blazers on Sunday night. Not the type of head shakes that might’ve followed those desultory first five games of the season, which saw him shoot 32 percent from three, many of those makes coming well after the Dubs had already been left for dead. These were the good kind of head shakes, the kinds that spoke full sentences. Such as: “Throwing Enes Kanter on me is a personal affront.” Or “Actually, none of you belong on this court with me (not you either, Dame).” And “I just remembered I’m the best shooter ever, so here are two old-fashioned bombs—boom, boom, 62.”
The season started sad for Curry, maybe the only player of his stature who has never had to ply pure heliocentrism. Life gets harder as the sole creator of his team’s offense and sole concern of every opposing defense. Certainly there’s way less shimmying. Curry soldiered through nights where his best teammate—condolences to Kelly Oubre Jr. (who missed his first 17 threes of the season) and Andrew Wiggins (see previous two words)—might’ve been a rookie who hadn’t played organized basketball in over a year. Second-overall pick James Wiseman stands an unnervingly coordinated 7-foot-1, like a young Embiid with a little more hops and a little less Shirley Temple. He’s also 19 years old, and by his own admission, more accustomed to playing as Steph Curry in NBA2K than playing alongside him.
So those early games must have felt like culture shock. Before Curry went down with a wrist last season, there was at least D’Angelo Russell around to ape some of the old creativity. But an Oubre brick in isolation is the spiritual enemy of the blissful synergies of last decade’s Dubs. And Klay Thompson is barely a month removed from the repair of his right Achilles. Until Sunday night, Curry only saw 18 minutes of Draymond Green, his complementary part, with which the most basic engine of Those Warriors can be built. But Draymond was back for this one, and barking, going a cool plus-22 in 28 minutes, ticking off all the usual labors in his Draymond way: honkingly overt and vanishingly subtle all at once.
“Steph has the tendency at times to fuck around with the basketball,” Green honked after Curry’s career-best scoring night. “There was no fucking around. He came out and everything was shot or attack”—and yes, in the first quarter alone, 21 points on 11 shots. Looking sinewy after nine months of exile from the league, Curry welcomed punishment in the lane throughout the game, delivering on 18 of his 19 free throws. No player over 32 years old and under 200 pounds should be relied upon to land on his butt that often, every single game. But at least it’s the first taste of last decade’s Warriors in two years, now with none of the guilt, and fresh underdog appeal. Look at this man, these shots. Probably the answer is still “no.” But there is no more convincing case for the NBA to exist and operate, in the best or worst of circumstances, than Steph Curry setting himself on fire.