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Stephen Curry remains the greatest shooter of our time, so why do we keep acting like he has anything left to prove?

Vincent Goodwill
·7-min read

Stephen Curry was a little tardy for his postgame bask session Sunday night, delaying the postscript for his career night with the preparation for the next litmus test on his legacy since the Sacramento Kings are next on Golden State’s schedule.

That’s how ridiculous the chatter has gotten in this air fryer, minute-by-minute evaluation of today’s game — perhaps sped up even more for Curry, who somehow needed to remind the basketball world and NBA Twitter of his greatness with a 62-point masterpiece against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Every Jim, James, Paul and Tyrone had lined up in front of the Warriors’ grave with 3-1 cookies and popcorn, ready to give the comeuppance on a former champion who stomped, preened and brushed aside every would-be contender in the last five years before last season.

Curry was first in their sights, even ahead of the mouthy and entertaining Draymond Green. It didn’t matter what weapon was used in this fictional wrestling match. Sometimes it’s the 35-pound Larry O’Brien trophy, ready to penalize Curry for having the audacity to welcome Kevin Durant to their team in 2016 to make them historically unbeatable — even though, that same trophy is knocked over Durant’s head in the attempt to invalidate him as a champion.

Some nights it’s LeBron James and those 3-1 cookies.

“Everybody’s always going to try and find a reason to nitpick at something Steph does,” said Green, who was pretty masterful himself on the defensive end. “Whether it’s, ‘Oh, you haven’t won a Finals MVP,’ or ‘Oh, you haven’t carried a team.’ If I'm not mistaken, he carried the 2015 team pretty damn far. And so to be honest, he’s carried every team.”

And other nights it’s Damian Lillard, a perfect foil to Curry in some ways. Lillard is an Oakland kid, under-recruited, charismatic but snarly and most importantly, happy to be in little Portland without stars alongside him, grinding things out as opposed to being light years ahead.

It’s the equivalent of the stories you hear from generations past, walking through six feet of snow every day to get to school and liking it.

Magic Johnson is unassailable as a basketball player, the GOAT of point guards, but always played on stacked teams. He didn’t have to drag the Los Angeles Lakers to the Finals until 1991 after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired and James Worthy neared the back end of his run, albeit still an All-Star.

Curry, similarly, can play with great players as the ultimate conductor without dimming their shine or fading into the background. Some are better with subservient talent while rare ones can thrive and enhance already-superior ballplayers.

And amazingly, Magic’s teammates aren’t held against him in these discussions, nor should they be. But the historical context is missing in evaluations since, usually being spewed by former players and repeated by the choir.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr claimed he didn’t pay much attention to the weekend Twitter wars but came up with amazing perspective on short notice when asked about Curry’s — and by proxy, the Warriors’ — struggles.

“If you think about most guys considered the best players in the league, physical freaks of nature, LeBron, Giannis, Anthony Davis. Steph is 6-3, 180 pounds, whatever he is,” Kerr said. “He has to carry a game with skill, not physicality. It’s much harder to carry a team by hitting 35-footers all day. If you’re not 6-8, 250, you can’t dominate a game in other ways. That’s probably my best guess.”

Luckily, neither Curry nor Lillard truly play into this manufactured rivalry, although both are fierce competitors who desperately want to get the better of the other. Sunday night, it was Dame’s time to catch the work from Curry, and by the end of the first quarter, even Tyrone was calling around to tell people about Curry going nuclear — finally.

“Steph has the tendency at times to f--- around with the basketball,” Green said. “There was no f---ing around. He came out and everything was shot or attack.”

In this 3-point era, big nights are more commonplace than in any era, but when Curry does it, there’s a different feel. Yeah, his pat-pat-pat, step-back shots are unguardable when he’s in that special space, but his quick-twitch, almost pop-a-shot flicks take you back to the arcade when you’re trying to beat the clock.

It’s what makes him the greatest shooter ever, arguably a top-three point guard ever, and the subject of unnecessary scrutiny and dissection.

And he hears it. No matter what you think of Curry’s charmed life — genetically blessed from his athletic parents, cute kids, adoring wife — there’s a dog that goes after it, that wants it, that needs it.

That fair skin brings some resentment, assumptions from the outside, and you don’t make it to these heights without some damned resilience and competitive arrogance.

“The great ones are always confident in who they are and this ‘What have you done for me lately?’ [attitude] doesn’t affect us, or me,” Curry said with a little gleam in his eye. “People try to poke holes, that’s part of the business. I like being talked about.”

Then he gave you a window into his psyche.

“You saw the Jordan meme? I take all that personally.”

How long has it been, though?

Although the litigation of Curry’s standing historically and with his contemporaries was overblown, you get the feeling Curry’s teammates needed to see this type of explosion. James Wiseman, a rookie who looks like he will be dynamite very soon, made Curry score 72 in a game of NBA 2K, “with the Hall of Fame sliders on,” but doing it in a real game with 42 people at Chase Center is different.

Believe it or not, the Warriors are 3-3 — a better record than the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and (gasp!) Brooklyn Nets, the team headlined by Durant and Kyrie Irving that’s expected to make a real run at the Finals.

Somehow, though, they’ve all earned the benefit of the doubt while seemingly Curry has not. You have to go back some time to recall the last meaningful Curry explosion, Game 3 of the 2019 Finals against Toronto when Durant was still out with a calf injury and Klay Thompson was out with a hamstring injury — days before tearing his ACL and a full 18 months from his Achilles injury — and Curry scored 47 in a double-digit loss.

Kelly Oubre Jr. wasn’t around and neither was Andrew Wiggins, but these are the supporting characters Curry is having to make do with during these unusual circumstances.

We’ve watched LeBron play a main role in tearing the Lakers apart in the 2018-19 season with the rightful, fruitful pursuit of Anthony Davis, seen him get rings with Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love but yet, argue Curry has to “prove” himself with less-than-stellar teammates to this point.

As if he isn’t already a made man if the Warriors never get back to the Finals, or those aforementioned teams turn it around and surpass Curry’s squad.

But don’t expect it to be easy, even with all the Warriors’ question marks, missing pieces and improved competition.

“I love it. I love everything about it,” Curry said. “The competitiveness, the fire. I never run from it.”

The way Curry chased after Green to let off that last bomb let you know how much it meant to him to remind himself of who he was, to introduce himself to his teammates and to show everyone out there, he’s still that dude.

Well, until Sacramento, right?

Golden State Warriors guard Damion Lee, right, pours water over the head of guard Stephen Curry (30) while celebrating Curry's career-high 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Damion Lee pours water over Stephen Curry while celebrating Curry's career-high 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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