OAKLAND -- There are times when he needs only one clean splash to know where he is headed and for teammates and opponents to know what’s coming.
And don’t let him drain two in a row.
That’s when it’s popcorn time for the Warriors and their fans -- and sheer dread for the opposition.
That’s where Stephen Curry is right now, both feet planted in the Steph Zone. Two games into these Western Conference Finals, the Warriors are up 2-0 and Curry’s shots are falling from all over the court, drenching the Spurs while turning Oracle Arena into his personal cheering section.
“To see him knock down those shots and play with that aggression, and it's definitely better for us and better for the rest of the guys in the group as well,” Kevin Durant said Tuesday night, after Curry scored a game-high 29 points on 13 shots in a 136-100 rout. “He's shooting from two, three feet behind the 3-point line. Man, that's impressive. It's definitely been fun to watch.”
Since going 6-for-20 on May 6 in Game 3 of the conference semifinals at Utah, Curry is averaging 33.0 points on 57.4-percent shooting, including 48.6 percent from deep.
The Warriors are halfway to the NBA Finals largely because he has torched San Antonio for 69 points in 70 minutes, shooting 56.4 percent (22-of-39) from the field and 52 percent (13-of-25) beyond the arc.
Now, this is Gregg Popovich and San Antonio we’re talking about, the team that historically takes pride in not allowing 3-point specialists to get comfortable beyond the arc. Non-shooters can launch all they like, but the Spurs crowd shooters such as Curry. They chase and they close out and anything less means an earful of Pop.
They’ve so far mostly failed to meet that demand when it comes to Curry, and it hasn’t mattered much even when they’re in the immediate vicinity.
Asked about his recent play, Curry cited the challenge of the postseason.
“This is playoff time, and if you're not excited and don't get that adrenaline rush and get locked into the moment, you're going to miss out,” he said. “So, thankfully, I'm playing well, playing aggressive and confident, shots going in, trying to be locked in in every other aspect of the game too.”
The Warriors talked of avoiding a repeat of Game 1, in which a sluggish and sloppy first quarter dropped them into a 30-16 hole that forced them come together and fight for the victory. Curry scored 19 points in the third quarter, igniting the comeback.
He made sure Game 2 would be different, coming out in the first quarter and scoring 15 points. The Spurs, stifled by nasty Warriors defense, had 16.
“Stephen Curry has been doing a great job of really setting a tone, shooting the ball, being aggressive, attacking, him and Kevin,” Shaun Livingston said. “We just kind of follow suit.”
That’s the thing about Curry and 3-balls. When they start dropping, it becomes an almost tangible thing, certainly to the other team. Defenses get wrecked, inevitably leading to a sense of despair.
“I’ve been on the other end of it and it’s not fun,” Brown said. “You’re frightened to death to begin with, and once he hits one you’re on alert. And if he hits two in a row, it’s like a floodgate that opens up that you really can’t plug.”
With due respect to anything anybody else can do, no sequence in the NBA is more intoxicating for his team while demoralizing the opponent than when Curry makes three triples in a row, as he did in final five minutes of the first quarter in Game 2.
The effect is something Durant, a first-year Warrior, is seeing for the first time on a regular basis.
“He gets everybody else open once he gets it going like that,” he said. “He creates so many open shots for everybody else. You know, it’s just the team we have. If he’s got it going, give him the ball. If Klay has it going, give him the ball. Same with me, same with anybody.”
Curry has got it going. Give him the ball.