With 10 minutes, 29 seconds left in the second quarter of Saturday night’s unforgettable epic showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, Stephen Curry—the NBA’s most unimaginably brilliant superstar—crumpled to the court with an ankle injury.
In a different dimension, Curry left the game and didn’t return. The Thunder extended their lead to double digits, gave Golden State its sixth loss of the season and left the entire NBA wondering if the Warriors are as vulnerable as any collection of human beings should be.
But in this dimension, Curry returned to action and looked better than ever.
On the way to pushing his own legend to an unprecedented height, leading his Warriors to a 121-118 overtime victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the reigning MVP finished with 46 points on 24 field-goal attempts, including an NBA-record-tying 12 three pointers.
The icing on the cake: a neck-snapping go-ahead dagger with 0.6 seconds on the clock. For anybody else, the attempt from a few steps within the half-court line is a prayer. For Curry, it’s easier than pressing "start" on a microwave.
Curry has now made 288 threes this season, already an NBA record despite the fact that there are 24 games remaining on Golden State’s schedule. You can’t make this stuff up. The greatest shooter ever is still getting better.
He’s pushing the boundaries of imagination, now two (or three) steps ahead of the most effective and innovative defensive strategies that currently exist. There is no blueprint to stop a singular force this unprecedented, a talent so surreal that he’s immune to hyperbole.
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant—who fouled out for just the fourth time in his career after he hacked Curry in overtime—scored 37 points and spent most of the game building his case as an effective antidote for Curry’s genius. The Thunder switched screens, and Durant’s length threw a wrench in Golden State’s attack. And the Warriors still won.
Golden State’s heart, soul and starting power forward, Draymond Green, reportedly went on a profanity-laced tirade at halftime, per ESPN reporter Lisa Salters on the ABC broadcast.
He still finished with 14 rebounds and 14 assists (not to mention four blocks) but didn’t score a single basket in 44 minutes of action (two points on 2-of-5 free throws)—something that’s only been done 28 other times since 1983, per Basketball-Reference. And the Warriors still won.
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka scored 15 points (on 12 shots) and grabbed a season-high 20 rebounds. Oklahoma City out-rebounded Golden State by 30 (62-32 overall, and 16-4 on the offensive end), coming up with key loose balls time and time again. And the Warriors still won.
None of this makes any sense, but it doesn’t have to, because Curry is the ultimate equalizer. He grinds the inner mechanics of each game to dust and renders everything irrelevant by simply stepping on the floor. All that matters is his jump shot, which matches a light switch in dependability. He provides thrills in big spots, even though everyone who’s familiar with his work already knows the conclusion before it happens.
What else is there to say? He competes in a league, alongside the best of the best, yet even they are flabbergasted:
@StephenCurry30 needs to stop it man!! He's ridiculous man! Never before seen someone like him in the history of ball!— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 28, 2016
He can't be human.— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 28, 2016
Steph curry best shooter ever— Rudy Gay (@RudyGay8) February 28, 2016
is this real life?— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) February 28, 2016
It’s fair to scold people who overreact to one regular-season game in late February, but not when Curry is involved. He chokes the narrative even while a four-time scoring champ and one-time MVP is trying his best to wrestle it away.
Down the stretch of Saturday night’s game, Durant nearly provided Exhibit A in any argument that supports his case as the one score-first star capable of dethroning Golden State in the postseason.
The Thunder led by four points with 14.5 seconds left in regulation. They led by two with under a second to go and Andre Iguodala (a 61.3 percent free-throw shooter who’s dipped below the 60 percent mark before) at the charity stripe.
Basketball is a team game, and the Warriors don’t win if Iguodala misses one of those shots. But they might’ve lost by 25 without their best player. Curry is officially his own species, and he delivered an instant classic, on the road, against a defense that, on paper, has the athleticism and length to slow him down.
Instead, he did this:
On the year, Curry is averaging 30.7 points, 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 46.8 percent behind the three-point line, 51.5 percent from the floor and 90.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Ironically, Durant is the closest thing to him the NBA’s seen in terms of cutthroat scoring efficiency, but nothing rivals how precise Curry is on a per-minute basis. Saturday night’s game was either the defining regular-season performance of his Hall of Fame career or the latest indication that the 27-year-old’s show is just starting.
Maybe it’s both.
Either way, Saturday night was a harsh reminder to the rest of the league that there’s no point showing up to the arena as long as Curry is on the other team. He ends games before they start.