You could look in any direction during the run-up to this NBA season and find someone who was feeling bullish about the Golden State Warriors. After two seasons spent in the wilderness following Kevin Durant’s departure and a mess of injuries, things seem to be lining up for something of a resurgence. Klay Thompson will play basketball again this season, 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman should continue to develop, and the team has a decent cast of role players who will have the chance to claim rotation spots and become meaningful contributors to a functional basketball team. And then, of course, there’s Steph Curry.
It won’t matter how spry Thompson looks following his recovery from catastrophic injury, or how capably Jordan Poole can defend and space the floor, or whether Wiseman learns to stand in the right places if Curry isn’t ready to lead Golden State’s charge back up the mountain. Last night against the Clippers, Curry was more than ready to do his part, even if his teammates were not.
The Warriors won the game, 115-113, but nobody would have guessed the score would be that close after the first quarter, in which Curry hit all nine of his shots and scored 25 points. The Warriors were up by 17 at that point, and had this been 2016, Curry probably would have spent most of the second quarter on the bench, provided another little jolt of scoring in the third quarter, and then spent the fourth quarter lounging on the sideline while his teammates completed the wire-to-wire blowout. But this is 2021, and so Curry spent the second and third quarters hounded by Clippers defenders both on and off the ball while his teammates struggled to hold onto the lead. The Warriors were down three by the time the fourth quarter started, and it was only because Curry was able to shake loose for 10 fourth-quarter points, and hit a pair of clutch threes along the way, that they came away with the win:
The thing is, we already saw plenty of this last season. Injuries aside, Curry has never really left the individual peak he reached on his way to turning Golden State into the dynasty it so recently was. He had his best scoring season ever last year, leading the league with 32 points per game and authoring just as many “Holy shit!” scoring outbursts as we’ve seen from him in years past. It was arguably his best season as a pro, and it was nearly good enough to will a thoroughly mediocre Warriors team into the playoffs.
Another season spent watching Curry try to go for 50 every night just to keep his team afloat would maybe be fun for a little while, but you can’t watch the same show over and over again, no matter how good it is, without starting to wonder if maybe it’s time for something new. The ways in which the rest of the Warriors hacked and sputtered during the portions of last night’s game in which the Clippers managed to smother Curry didn’t inspire much confidence. But things will (have to) get better soon; Thompson will be back on the floor at some point, providing Curry with the spacing and extra scoring punch that he has so desperately missed, and his return will only make it easier for the rest of the roster to settle. And there is always the possibility of the Warriors swinging a trade that could bring in another star player to ease some of the burden on Curry.
For as much fun as it is to watch Curry play like he did last season and last night, it would be much more satisfying to see those performances in games that really matter. Curry’s 32 now, and he won’t be able to do this forever; it would be a shame if all the 45-point nights he still has left in him get spent in November and January rather than May and June.