Stephen Curry Reminds Kevin Durant of the Glory Days with Warriors Blowout

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2021

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in New York. The Warriors won 117-99. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Tuesday marked the first time Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant faced each other in a game with any kind of stakes since the latter left the Golden State Warriors following the 2018-19 season.

Yes, it's November. Yes, both teams are missing stars. But the Warriors and Brooklyn Nets have both shown flashes of Finals upside, and Curry and Durant are both among the early MVP favorites.

In fact, entering Tuesday's action, they were the top two in FanDuel Sportsbook's MVP odds. And after Golden State's 117-99 shellacking of Brooklyn, in which Curry scored 37 points in just 29 minutes and on 12-of-19 shooting (including 9-of-14 from three), his lead on that particular list could grow.

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KD has high praise for Steph 🗣 https://t.co/nDS5Em5dFC

In this matchup of former championship teammates, Curry didn't just outplay Durant, who had 19 points on 19 shots—he reminded him of who his best running mate was.

Throughout the overwhelming majority of Durant's career, he's shared the floor with fellow stars. He made the Finals in his age-23 season, alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook. His partnership with the latter lasted four more years after that one. Then, he joined Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the Warriors for three seasons. His current superteam includes Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Harden and Westbrook both have MVPs. The former is fifth all-time in career offensive box plus/minus. The latter averaged a triple-double over the course of five seasons. Irving averaged 27.1 points and shot 40.5 percent from three on the way to a championship in the 2016 Finals.

But none of them have reached (or can reach) the heights Curry has (and does). And none of them have ever played in a way that meshed as easily with KD.

Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of Curry's greatness is his unselfishness. And that's something he's demonstrated with far more than assist numbers.

When Durant joined him ahead of the 2016-17 season, Curry was coming off his second MVP win (and the first unanimous selection in league history). He preempted the potential chemistry issues that might've followed an all-time great scorer like Durant by willingly operating off the ball and quietly playing through countless acknowledgments that KD was the best player on the team.

On one occasion during their time together, Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Durant, "the best player in the world, most skilled player in the world." On another, Kerr added, "I think Kevin wants to be recognized as the best player in the world. And I happen to think he is."

There were never any grumblings of discontent from Curry, who had lifted Golden State to one championship, a 73-win season and back-to-back Finals appearances. He remained the good supportive soldier as Durant won both Finals MVPs for the two titles they won together.

There isn't a great argument for Curry to have either of those trophies. Durant was absurd in those series, with 32.3 points and a 12.7 box plus/minus that dwarfed Curry's 7.2. But there is an argument that Curry was that team's best player, or at least its most important, over the course of those three years.

When both were on the floor, the Warriors dominated to the tune of plus-15.7 points per 100 possessions. They were a still overwhelming plus-10.9 when Curry played without Durant, but they fell to a much more mortal-looking plus-3.1 when Durant played without Curry.

There are plenty of reasons for the impact, but that unselfishness may have been chief among them. Curry is one of the most malleable superstars ever. He can do about as much damage manipulating defenses as he moves off the ball as he does running pick-and-rolls in the middle of the floor. The attention he commands, whether he's handling the ball or not, gives his teammates precious extra space on their own catches.

As good as Westbrook, Harden and Irving are (or were when playing with Durant), none elevate those around them in quite the same way Curry does.

Harden and Westbrook have gaudy assist numbers, but plenty of those come after either pounds the ball for the entire possession before dropping it off for the dime. There's obviously value in that production, but it's not the kind of rising-tide-lifts-all-boats impact Curry has. His willingness and ability to fly around the floor without the ball fosters ball and player movement from everyone else. And the more touches the other four players are getting, the more engaged they'll be.

This season, Curry's influence on Golden State's offense has been as evident as ever. And he's helped promote breakouts from Gary Payton II and Jordan Poole while continuing to foster his chemistry with Draymond Green.

He can and still does take over games too.

On Tuesday, he set the tone early with a stepback three less than two minutes into the game over Blake Griffin. A few minutes later, he caught the ball off a deflection, stepped back and hit another triple. Next came a logo three (and another stepback over Griffin). And on the very next possession, he pulled up in transition from the same distance, just a little further toward the right wing.

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Steph shimmying on the Nets after back-to-back threes 💦 https://t.co/35P9Me3sMU

All of that happened in the first quarter. And despite Brooklyn staying close throughout the first half, it felt very much like one of those nights. It's a feeling NBA fans have gotten used to over the last eight or nine seasons.

With his range and nose for the big moments, Curry can seize control of a game (and an entire night of NBA basketball, thanks to "League Pass alerts") in a way few others across history have been able to.

He did it again in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, when he put three three-point nails into the Nets' coffin. By the time he was done, Curry had his 39th career game (regular and postseason) with at least nine triples (Damian Lillard is second on that list with 12 such games).

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STEPH FROM THE LOGO. KD and Harden's reaction 💀🍿 https://t.co/OUU2Rm1IPj

When they were teammates, Durant had one of the best seats in the house for 16 of those games. On Tuesday, he was on the receiving end of the barrage, getting a vivid reminder of how explosive Curry can be. And perhaps more striking, he was reminded just how much easier Curry makes the game for everyone else.

There may not be an official number for this, but it's tough to imagine many have singlehandedly scrambled as many defensive possessions as Curry has.

Durant is doing fine individually. Even after a bad game (by his standards), he's averaging 28.9 points with a 62.1 effective field-goal percentage. But it's tough to watch a game like Tuesday's without remembering how Durant thrived in the chaos Curry created.