There are some guys who just love playing in the spotlight, and Stephen Curry is quite clearly one of those guys.
If there's one takeaway from his triple-double against the New York Knicks on Friday, Feb. 28, it's exactly that.
You can talk about his offensive talent, the Golden State Warriors' defensive skills and the overall ineptitude of the team sinking down closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but those takeaways should pale in comparison to what we continued to learn about Curry during the Dubs' 126-103 victory.
Truthfully, we should have realized this a long time ago.
This is the same guy who led the Davidson Wildcats on a ridiculous Cinderella run through the NCAA tournament in 2008. This is the same point guard who defied the odds and became an unquestioned NBA star. This is the same floor general who really seems to have ice water flowing through his veins, even if that's not possible in a literal sense.
Curry proved it once more on Friday night.
Mark Jackson: "He [Curry] enjoys the bright lights. He was anxious about tonight."— Jordan Ramirez (@JRAM_91) March 1, 2014
By dropping 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against the 'Bockers without even stepping onto the court during the fourth quarter of a blowout victory, the baby-faced assassin showcased his big-stage talent yet again.
I hesitate to say "big-game talent" because the Knicks aren't good enough for the contest to qualify as such, but there's no denying the scale of a nationally televised game at Madison Square Garden.
Speaking of which...
Dominance at MSG
There isn't a more famous basketball arena than the one you can find at 4 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Commonly referred to as "the mecca of basketball," MSG has hosted all sorts of legendary performances. Scoring 50 points within the confines of this particular arena is a much bigger deal than dropping half a hundred in EnergySolutions Arena, just for example.
I don't mean to single out the Utah Jazz, so feel free to insert the name of any of the other 28 arenas that play host to NBA clashes. The point will still stand.
Curry: "This is one of the arenas that you understand the history and you look forward to playing here."— Jordan Ramirez (@JRAM_91) March 1, 2014
Over the last few opportunities, Curry has made Madison Square Garden into his own personal playground. All that's missing is the slide at center court, the monkey bars going around the three-point arc and a seesaw on one of the baselines.
Prior to this Feb. 28 outing, the former Wildcat had gone up against the Knicks on their home court three times. This makes four, so let's take a look at the numbers he's posted in that quartet of appearances:
The first game doesn't really count, as Curry was just eight games into his NBA career and barely received any playing time. But he's thrived during each of the other outings.
Of course, the most famous was the 54-point outburst last season, which remains the single greatest performance of his career. Curry has put up some incredible playoff performances, but the showmanship and unstoppable nature of his three-point shooting was just something else.
"Jaw-dropping" doesn't even begin to describe it, though see if you can resist having your chin hit the floor when you watch those highlights up above.
B/R's Grant Hughes remembered the performance in what amounts to a must-read, but permit me to draw one quote from the opening of his article:
The Golden State Warriors' sharpshooting point guard was already showing up on the superstar map heading into his MSG outburst, but the relentless bucket barrage he dumped on the New York Knicks last Feb. 27 made him visible from space.
He blew up. He was unconscious. He couldn't be stopped.
This latest performance was different.
It came against a reeling New York team rather than a potent one, and it also came during a victory. His scoring wasn't quite as impressive, but the overall nature of his outing made up for the difference, as well as the fact that he posted a triple-double in only three quarters of action.
Regardless of how you feel the Feb. 28 performance stacks up against the one a year and a day earlier, you can't deny that it was the latest piece of evidence pointing toward utter domination on the big stage.
According to Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN, David Thompson and Curry are now tied for the most points scored in a visiting player's first three starts at MSG (106) over the last 40 years.
Loves the Big Game
Rewind to last year, and you'll remember that Curry wasn't even named a reserve to the Western Conference All-Star team. It was a travesty and a ridiculous snub—even at the time; this isn't hindsight being 20/20—and the Dubs point guard would go on to avenge his omission throughout the rest of the year.
But he stepped up even more during the postseason.
Curry was unconscious during the first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, averaging 24.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game while shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 44.2 percent beyond the arc. Then he carried Golden State against the San Antonio Spurs, serving as one of the few reasons the series wasn't a sweep.
He thrived with the pressure on, and it was hard for him to hide his affinity for putting up big performances while under the spotlight. This is a player, after all, who claimed he was the second-best clutch shooter in NBA history, even though he had one game-winner to his credit.
"Jordan's No. 1. I'm No. 2," Curry told ESPN's Sam Alipour this past December. "Then you go Ray, then Reggie, then Kobe. Three-pointer or not, same answer."
Is it any wonder that he excels when the spotlight is on?
But this isn't about his performance with a waning clock in a tightly contested game. It's about his ability to showcase sustained excellence on a big stage, just as he did with his triple-double against the struggling Knicks.
During the 2013-14 season, Curry has scored at least 30 points on 14 separate occasions. Had New York been more competitive, he surely would've made it 15 going into March. But what's truly incredible about those 14 outings is that 11 of them came against teams currently slated as playoff squads.
Even more telling is what's been going on when Curry doesn't score.
The three-point maestro has failed to reach the 20-point milestone 18 times during the 2013-14 season. Only four of those games came against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ran through February and no longer.
Is this coincidence, or is it the point guard loving to take on challenges?
I'll take the latter.
"You understand the moment and the stage you're on, but if you don't approach each game the same way, you tend to psych yourself out and try to do too much," Curry told the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons earlier this season. "It's a marquee game and you want to send a message, but (you treat it as if) it's no different than any other game."
That quote came before a Christmas Day contest with the Los Angeles Clippers, one in which Curry waited until the closing minutes to shine. He finished with 15 points and 11 assists, but seven of the points came during the final 3:01 of the game as he went head-to-head with Chris Paul and came out on top.
Just par for the course for this player who seems to treat the big stage with constantly increasing levels of love and reverence.
Good News Going Forward
Fans of the Warriors have had reason to fear throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
A weak second unit and an inability to finish close games with a mark on the right side of the win-loss ledger have depressed the record of a team that—statistically, at least—should be a lot better. Basketball-Reference shows that the Dubs boasted the No. 14 offensive rating and No. 3 defensive rating going into the New York game.
It's a combination that should have them a lot higher in the standings than their current position, which leaves them fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
In fact, simple rating system, which takes strength of schedule and margin of victory into account, calls the Dubs the No. 8 team in the NBA, trailing only five teams in the conference. There's a drop-off after No. 9 as well, so this should be a guaranteed playoff team.
Despite what the numbers say, Golden State still has to focus on the second half of the season to even have a shot at somehow winning a title. Holding up the Larry O'Brien Trophy first requires making it past the 82nd game of the season, and the Dubs are only three games clear of the lottery after beating the Knicks.
Fear not, though, because Curry is on the roster.
If these big games have taught us anything, it's that no stage is too big for the sharp-shooting point guard, especially when the rest of the team is confident and healthy. No matter how important the late-season contests become, Golden State fans can rest assured that Curry won't sink beneath the national spotlight.
He'll only get better.
Curry might not have the luxury of playing each and every game at Madison Square Garden, but the location isn't what's important. Only the fact that the game is played on a big stage does.
Mark Jackson might seriously want to consider installing a few more spotlights in Oracle Arena.