Steph Curry of the first-place Warriors collided with James Harden of the Nets in the third quarter of Golden State’s big win over the Nets earlier this week. That was Tuesday; the Warriors traveled to Cleveland Thursday night, and Curry’s hip, where it was smashed by Harden, wasn’t feeling real great. Perhaps it was this lingering injury to their best player which explains how the Warriors, owners of the NBA’s best record and a net rating that is four points clear of second place, were down 13 points after three quarters to the dang Cavaliers.
Not so. For one thing, the Cavaliers are good. Trailing them in Cleveland, at the moment, isn’t the abject disgrace it used to be. For another, the non-Steph Warriors seemed to be feeling the effects of the team’s first extended road trip of the season, coming off a glorious, two-week, 7–1 homestand: Warriors not named Stephen Curry shot 6-for-27 from deep Thursday night; Andrew Wiggins, who’d been on a hot streak and averaging 24 points a night over Golden State’s last four games, settled back to Earth with a measly 12 points on 11 shots versus the Cavs. With the supporting cast struggling and the superstar ailing, and in a 13-point hole on the front leg of a road back-to-back, most NBA teams might’ve been just a couple minutes away from pulling the plug and giving Curry some important rest.
But it is precisely due to the nature of Curry’s superpowers that the math on that looks different for the Warriors. Juan Toscano-Anderson explained it well after an insane, incredible 36–8 fourth-quarter surge powered the Warriors to an improbable 104–89 victory: “It’s like you’re getting into a street fight and you’ve got Mike Tyson on your side. Of course you’re going to have all the confidence in the world because you know Mike Tyson is knocking people out.” Curry had a perfectly respectable 20 points through three quarters, and then went nuts in the fourth, ripped off 20 points on 12 shots in under 11 minutes, and—to expertly extend the Mike Tyson metaphor—counterpunched those poor Cavaliers into the middle of next week, yeah!
Curry finished the night with 40 points, including nine three-pointers on 16 attempts. This is the part that makes me feel woozy: This was the fourth time in six games that Curry has made nine three-pointers, which is mind-boggling enough before you learn the following: No other player in NBA history has more than nine total career games with nine or more made three-pointers. Steph Curry has now had 38 such games. Curry now has as many games with nine threes in his last six outings as Kyrie Irving and Paul George have in their careers, combined.
My favorite of Steph’s nine triples Thursday night was decidedly not the final one, where I am sorry to say he got away with a pretty obvious travel. Instead, it’s the one he hit in semi-transition early in the second quarter, with the Warriors and Cavs exchanging the lead possession by possession. Steph grabs the defensive rebound and starts up the floor. All five Cavaliers are ahead of the ball, pointing out assignments and closing off a quick route to the paint, because they’re a good and smart team now. Dylan Windler and Isaac Okoro push Curry over to the wing, where Windler takes on the defensive assignment, using his chest to stone Curry and nudge him to the sideline. Curry is 28 feet from the basket; he’s got a capable and energetic defender right on him; he’s got one of his own teammates still moseying along in the backcourt, for crying out loud. Jim Chones, calling the game for the home broadcast, correctly identifies this as good transition defense by the Cavs, and then lightning strikes. Windler’s hands are down, and that alone is enough space for Curry to launch and connect. Tim Alcorn, on the play-by-play, can only describe what has happened as Curry “[finding] an opening,” as if Steph had flowed into a pocket of space instead of just flatly ignoring the scrambling 6-foot-6 guy looming in front of him.
So I guess that bum hip wasn’t quite as bad as advertised, eh? No, turns out it sucks quite a lot: “That charge really messed with me a little bit, so I’m just trying to deal with that a little bit,” explained Curry after the incredible 40-point game in which he powered his team’s misfiring and lethargic offense back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit pretty much single-handedly. The Warriors will assess Friday whether he is fit to play against the Detroit Pistons on the second leg of the back-to-back. “We’ll see how it feels when I wake up.” Steph, truly: What the fuck?