This is how I know Stephen Curry is the real deal:
Last night I watched the epic, Olympic hockey battle between Team Canada and Team USA. It was riveting television, easily the most exciting competition we've seen so far in Vancouver.
I couldn't stop yelling at the TV.
I couldn't stop tweeting about it.
I couldn't stop reading other people's tweets about it.
That final period, in which US goalie Ryan Miller repeatedly stopped a flurry of wicked shots by Team Canada, culminating in a beautiful open net shot by Ryan Kesler that sealed the win, which was perhaps the single most thrilling sports moment of the year.
And yet, in the midst of this of nerve-wracking hysteria, my mind was somewhere else.
Every time there was a stoppage of play during the hockey game, I quickly turned to ESPN to catch up on the Hawks/Warriors.
There were two scintillating performances last night. Ryan Miller, from Team USA, made 42 saves against the Canadians, including a couple in the last two minutes that made my jaw drop.
The other performance that I can't stop thinking about, was from a 21-year old NBA rookie who looks like a teenager, and plays for one of the worst teams in the league. He was the rookie who scored 32 points and led the Warriors to the biggest win of the season.
His name is Stephen Curry.
Since Curry, the son of former NBA star Dell Curry, exploded onto the national scene two years ago during Davidson's remarkable run to the Elite Eight, I've been a fan. I just knew that there was something special about this kid. He played against teams who tried like heck to stop him and yet they couldn't. He scored at will and in the process of doing so, made it look easy.
So naturally, I was excited about his draft chances. That was until he ended up in Oakland.
For those who don't know, this is a look at some of the more intriguing storylines to come out of Oakland this season.
Stephen Jackson acted a fool, practically forcing the Warriors to trade him to Charlotte.
Monta Ellis acted a fool, publicly declaring that he and Curry couldn't play together in the same backcourt.
Warriors owner Chris Cohan really, really, really, really, really sucks!
And let's not forget Don Nelson's pursuit to become the NBA's all-time winningest coach. Funny thing is, he doesn't actually COACH! Instead he sits on the bench with the most disinterested look I think I've ever seen from a head coach. He sort of shrugs his shoulders, collects his paycheck, and goes home.
I remember when Bruce Smith finished his career with the Redskins. He only cared about becoming the all-time sack leader and everybody knew it. It was one of the most joyless accomplishments I've ever seen in sports.
I find Don Nelson's pursuit of the record books to be equally joyless.
Thank God for Stephen Curry.
Last night the Hawks built an 18 point lead in the third quarter. The Warriors were dead, the crowd was dead, and I was glad I had Olympic hockey to keep me company.
Team USA knocked off Team Canada in a thriller! I'm excited!
USA! USA! USA!
I crack a joke on Twitter:
"The last time I was this patriotic was at the end of Rocky IV!"
USA! USA! USA!
Oh, wait . . . The basketball game! What is Curry doing?
I turned to the game. 11 minutes remained in the fourth quarter. And something extraordinary had happened. Don Nelson awoke from his coma and make a shrewd coaching change, replacing Monta Ellis with the energizer bunny known as C.J. Watson. As if a switch had turned on, the entire team suddenly came to life. Andris Biedrins and Chris Hunter came alive, out-hustling the Hawks to loose balls, and grabbing offensive rebounds.
Suddenly the Oakland crowd was into it.
Suddenly, the Hawks began to look rattled and started jacking up bad shots.
And their lead kept falling: 17 . . . 13 . . . 10 . . . 8 . . .
It had trimmed down to five when Curry came down on a fast break, made a sweet pump-fake, watched the defender fly by, and Curry calmly stepped behind the 3-point line.
The crowd is going bonkers! Time out Atlanta.
But Mike Woodson's timeout had no effect.
Following the next Atlanta miss, Curry gets the ball and throws a beautiful 60-foot pass that catches Watson in stride for a reverse layup!
If you had heard me yelling you would have thought I was replaying the hockey game on my DVR.
Eventually Eliis returned, make a couple of timely steals, and helped the Warriors win an improbable game over the Hawks.
This was, in my opinion, THE defining moment of the season for the Golden State Warriors. Okay, they are still a lousy team, their front office is still a mess, and their coach is still a certified basket case. But I watched that comeback (with Ellis, the sixth leading scorer in the NBA, staring blankly from the bench) and I was impressed.
I was impressed with Stephen Curry's floor leadership, his clutch shooting, and his moxie. When he was drafted by the Warriors back in June, Don Nelson said that Curry could be "the next Steve Nash." I thought it was a baffling comment, kinda like saying "Tyra Banks could be the next Oprah."
Uh, no she cannot!
However, the time has come for me to change my perspective. Curry is fast developing into a terrific NBA player. He was January's Rookie of the Month for the Western Conference (19.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.0 steals, 48%FG, 48.6% 3PT).
And this month he's been even better. Check out his numbers in the last 7 games (22.8, 6.4, 8.5). Those are marvelous numbers for a scrawny, 6-foot-3 rookie who looks like he isn't old enough to drive. He had 15 assists in a game last week against the Kings. Two weeks ago he had a spectacular triple double in a blowout win over the Clippers (36 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists, and seven 3-pointers), becoming the first rookie since Kevin Johnson in 1988 (the year Curry was born) to notch a 30-10-10.
And here's some more stats for you: Tyreke Evans might still be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, but Curry is breathing down his neck:
Evans: 20.1, 5.3, 4.8, 1.5 steals, 46.4 FG%, 26.5 3PG%, 77.2 FT% (Top 25 in points per game, assists, steals, field goals made, free throws made)
Curry: 15.2, 4.1, 5.1, 1.9 steals, 46.1 FG%, 41.7 3PG%, 88.0 FT% (Top 25 in assists, steals, free throw percentage, three pointers made)
The cynic in me understands why Monta Ellis was in such a dour mood during training camp. He thinks HE'S the alpha dog and he is threatened by Curry.
During last night's remarkable comeback, I thought it was telling that the only person on the bench not celebrating was Ellis.
The writing is on the wall. Curry is the franchise and Ellis is a goner. He may be a great one-on-one player, but he's not a team player. And his "I'm going to dribble the air out of the ball until I can find a crease in the defense" does not mesh with Curry's more deliberate offensive philosophy:
"Take smart shots, get my teammates involved."
I thought Curry was going to have major growing pains. I didn't think he could play the point. I thought Golden State was a terrible team for him. I was wrong. And I'm glad I was wrong.
The Warriors have some of the more loyal fans in the NBA and when the Oracle Arena gets rocking, no other arena is louder. So I'm glad they have this wondrous player who will only get better. I'm glad they have Curry to get them through another dreadful season.
Like the famous fog that falls over the San Francisco Bay, the Warriors have long been enveloped by a cloud of failure. I don't want to use the "c" word, so instead I'll say "bad luck." (i.e. Tim Hardaway's knee injury in 93, the Chris Webber debacle, the attempted strangulation of P.J. Carlesimo, the Chris Mullin front office fiasco).
Who knows? Maybe in a few years we'll be looking back and saying: "the fortunes of this franchise changed when they drafted Stephen Curry."
If that happens, it'll be an even bigger surprise than last night's Team USA hockey win.
And I'm rooting for it to happen.
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