If you're trying to get a friend into basketball, you should suggest watching a Golden State Warriors game. Stephen Curry is the best show in sports again, and he's on a tear that surpasses any of the superb stretches he had during his back-to-back MVP seasons. You don't have to understand how severely he's warped NBA defenses to appreciate the degree of difficulty of the shots he's making and the amount of fun he's having.
Curry's 49-point performance on Monday, in a 107-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, is the latest in a string of absurdities. Four times in his last five games, he has made 10 or more 3-pointers. No other player in NBA history has more than five such games in their career. In the 10 games Curry has played in April, he has averaged 40.8 points on 0.549/0.503/0.909 shooting splits, making 72 of his 143 3-point attempts. He has eclipsed 40 points five times this month and hasn't scored fewer than 32 points in a game since March 17. This is not a mere hot streak. It is a heat storm.
Steve Kerr has coached the Warriors since 2014-15, the year Curry won his first MVP and first of three championships. Kerr won five titles as a player, three of them next to Michael Jordan. Few people in and around the NBA have ever had such sustained proximity to greatness. Even he is in awe.
"It's the same thing after every game: It's just utter amazement at this guy's skill level, heart, mind, focus," Kerr said Monday. "It's just amazing to watch."
All that Kerr can compare this to is Jordan's scoring binges and Kobe Bryant's barrage of 50-point games in 2007. Those guys, however, were not routinely making contested, off-the-dribble 3s; silly stepbacks and deep, on-the-move, quick-release bombs.
"Obviously, nobody's ever shot the ball like this in the history of the game," Kerr said. "And even by Steph's own lofty standards, this is above and beyond."
Like anyone at the absolute apex of their craft, the best shooter of all time is barely even thinking when he's on the court. "For the most part I've just settled into just having fun," Curry said. "Being aggressive, obviously, but kind of letting the game come to you. And for me, that looks a certain type of way, but I'm having a blast out there just playing basketball." He then deadpanned, "It's obviously working." No kidding.
I watched all of Curry's made field goals during this stretch in order to compile the 10 craziest ones. There are all sorts of ridiculous shots -- pull-ups over the outstretched arms of all-world defenders, off-hand finishes in traffic with serious English on the ball, a midrange turnaround with multiple defenders on him — that didn't make the cut. This exercise would have been much easier had I gone with 30.
10. Brotherly love
This one gets bonus points because it's against his brother, Seth, but the context here is important. The Sixers started the game on a 12-0 run, and Seth accounted for seven of those points. Before Curry hit his first 3, he had already committed three turnovers, all errant passes. He hit another 3 on the next possession, though, and, by getting the best of Seth with a 29-footer on the final possession of the first quarter, the early damage was undone.
Curry had an amusing explanation for his slow start: He was thrown off by Philadelphia's defense, which he expected to be more aggressive than it was. Once he settled down, the Sixers, who were missing Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, were essentially cooked. On this buzzer-beater, the best part is the split-second right before Curry releases the shot. He'd hit his brother with a behind-the-back dribble and a pump fake, and Seth had just barely left his feet -- not enough to commit a foul, but enough to give him the tiny window he needs. At this point, Seth knows as well as anybody on the planet there's nothing to be done but try to contest it and hope for the best.
9. Smart move
Marcus Smart is one of the NBA's premier perimeter defenders. It is hard to shake him, as Curry experienced when trying to cross him over near the logo. But it is not impossible. You just need to be a threat from everywhere, with A+++ handles and footwork.
Other sharpshooters can rival Curry when it comes to accuracy, but even the best of the best tend to agree that Curry is in a category of his own because of his ability to create 3-point shots. Smart found himself on his heels here, but he still would have been able to recover against almost anybody else. Against Curry, though, the Boston Celtics guard was vulnerable to a stepback, and Curry fired one comfortably.
To be clear, I use the word "comfortably" in a relative sense. Curry is perfectly comfortable taking that shot with Smart flying at him. Few others would be, even with more players practicing this exact stepback than ever before. I had to watch the replay a few times to determine whether or not I thought Smart should have been called for a foul. (I don't think so, but Curry kicked his leg out and made it look like Smart's feet were in his landing area.)
Once again, Curry is going up against a top-tier perimeter defender. Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday lives to make ballhandlers miserable, and here he picks up Curry at halfcourt. Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo repeatedly fakes a double-team, as if he were stunting at an open shooter, but Curry hangs onto the ball and goes at Holiday one-on-one. He gets Holiday turned around with a behind-the-back dribble, but -- whoops! -- the ball bounces off his butt. Unperturbed, Curry recovers it and lets it fly as Holiday lunges toward his right arm.
My favorite part is the little shrug afterward. Maybe he was a bit perturbed.
7. Clutch Curry magic
It is hard to understand why Philadelphia didn't make more of an effort to take the ball out of Curry's hands. It was one thing when Kerr put Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder on the court to optimize Golden State's spacing, but even when Kevon Looney checked in for Mulder, the Sixers were reluctant to trap him. Here, they actually tried, but Warriors made it difficult by running a "ram screen," which simply means Draymond Green screens Joel Embiid so Embiid is late to defend Curry's pick-and-roll. Embiid gets his feet outside the 3-point line, but he's not nearly close enough to affect Curry's shot. Seth isn't, either, but at least he got his hands up.
This is wonderful execution by Golden State, but it's still a 6-foot-3 guy taking a jumper against a 7-foot guy from about 30 feet with another defender coming at him from the side, with two minutes left in a two-possession game. This is more than deserving of Mike Breen's "BANG!" treatment, which elevates every highlight in which it appears.
6. Long-range Buck hunting
It is generally recognized that Curry is the most dangerous off-ball player who has ever lived. "That's when he's even more dangerous," Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges told Sports Illustrated's Michael Pina earlier this season while describing the stress of chasing Curry around the court, knowing that you can't relax for even a fraction of a second. Less discussed, though, is the fact that Curry is the most terrifying player imaginable on a broken play.
Late in the Bucks game, Warriors wing Kelly Oubre missed a corner 3 and there was a scramble for the rebound. In the chaos of the loose ball, Curry lurked near halfcourt, in position to get back on defense should Milwaukee come up with it. Teammate Andrew Wiggins got his hand on the ball twice, first to bat it away from Brook Lopez and then to direct it to Curry. Holiday and Lopez were in his vicinity, but directly in front of Curry, there was space to dribble into a 30-footer. He splashed it, part of a 14-1 run that allowed Golden State to escape with a 122-121 win.
5. Miami madness
I mentioned it's hard to deal with Curry in transition, didn't I? The Warriors didn't pull off a comeback in Miami the way it did against Milwaukee, but this play kept hope alive for another possession. He shot this from the "I" on the Vice court, but what's remarkable is what had to happen for him to get this look. As the teams were changing ends, Curry stopped way outside the arc on the right wing, darted left, received a dribble-handoff from Green and cashed a 3 as Bam Adebayo and Victor Oladipo converged on him from both sides of the screen.
Like the one against the Bucks, you can feel the sheer panic as soon as the Heat realize Curry has a chance to get a shot off. It is similar, too, in that he is taking advantage of the opponent's confusion. Andre Iguodala has facilitated his share of Curry 3s, but did not intend to effectively screen Oladipo for him while calling out an assignment.
4. A Curry classic
You have seen Curry do this before. He isolates, gets in his bag, creates separation and lofts the ball hiiiiiigh up in the air, just past his defender's fingertips. He did this to Seth in Philadelphia, and he did it to Boston rookie Payton Pritchard earlier in this game.
The difference is that this happened with less than five minutes to go in a nailbiter and you couldn't ask Grant Williams to guard it any better. Williams went over the initial screen, moved his feet to stay in front of Curry and used his hands to try to disrupt Curry's rhythm. When he reached with his right hand, Curry went behind the back and into his classic pull-up. Williams was right there, just like he was against Fred VanVleet in Game 7 of the second round last season. This possession did not end like that one, and nor did it end like the one in which Curry was matched up with Kevin Love in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
Shots like these are why teams double Curry as soon as he crosses halfcourt, blitz his pick-and-rolls and go to the box-and-1.
3. Corner sliced
The very best Curry shots are the ones that leave you laughing, and I was cackling like an idiot on this one. The defense is faceguarding Curry on the inbounds pass, and Kent Bazemore has to throw a precarious bounce pass just to get him the ball. He then runs away from a double-team, dribbling toward the left baseline, where he hesitates just long enough for Jordan Poole to vacate the corner, keeps his dribble alive, launches his body sideways and tosses up a moonball. This is mean and rude.
Williams is the victim here, but, I mean, if there is one thing that Boston is trying to prevent on this possession it a Curry 3-point attempt. That he even managed to shoot it, let alone make it, is hilarious.
Extreme as this example may be, this dynamic is playing out all the time. For years, opponents have twisted themselves into knots trying to stop Curry from getting 3s off, and it has reached a new level this season because Curry hasn't had much shooting or playmaking around him. Curry can counter this because he's one of the most devastating finishers in the game, he's happy to beat you from midrange and he's more than willing to set up teammates for easy looks. He can also counter it simply by making increasingly insane shots.
2. Tornado watch
Yes, this is another off-the-dribble, slightly off-balance 3 from the left corner. Given that it happened in the second quarter and the Warriors were already beating the Oklahoma City Thunder by 24 points, it doesn't have the same urgency as the one over Williams. But doesn't that make it even better? In no way did Curry need to do this. The Warriors were not trying to erase a deficit as quickly as possible. They were not desperate for a 3. This was borne out of nothing more than opportunity -- Curry grabbed a rebound, pushed the ball and put pressure on the defense before it could get set.
Curry was attacking in transition, searching for an opening. It just so happens that he put on a dribbling exhibition while doing so. The bucket illustrates his ability to shoot on target even when he doesn't have time to square up the way you're taught to. The sequence leading up to it is best appreciated with multiple viewings and in slow motion.
Against the Thunder, Curry scored 25 points in the third quarter without missing a shot, didn't play in the fourth and finished with 42 in 29 minutes. "He's functioning at a level that very few human beings have ever functioned at in their particular field," Kerr said afterward.
1. Left-handed lunacy
I feel bad that Williams is appearing on this list for the third time. I profiled him last season, and it's a testament to his defensive versatility and IQ that the Celtics repeatedly switched him onto Curry. Besides, you can't fault any defender who ends up on the wrong end of this shot.
I sincerely wonder, though, if any other defender has ended up on the wrong end of this shot. I certainly can't recall any other instance of a player spinning into a drive, retreating to the 3-point line, pump-faking, twisting to the side to draw contact and flinging up a hook shot with his off-hand. (The official play-by-play reads, "Stephen Curry makes 22-foot hook shot.")
This is the only 2-point field goal on this list. "I say, if you work a good give-and-go, that ought to be worth five points," legendary coach John Wooden told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. "And a dunk, I wouldn't give more than one for that." Dunks are awesome, so I couldn't disagree more with Wooden (whose grouchy quote recently resurfaced in Nick Greene's book, "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius"), but I couldn't help thinking about this while rewatching Curry's miraculous lefty and-1. While Curry's foot is clearly on the line, this shot surely ought to be worth more than two or even three points. And in a way, as LeBron James would tell you, it is. I don't know how to quantify the demoralizing effect of Curry making -- and then celebrating -- such a preposterous shot. I just know that it is real.