SAN FRANCISCO – There was no third scorer, not by NBA standards, so it fell upon Stephen Curry to generate enough points to offset those that failed to materialize.
This is, of course, why the Warriors are paying their point guard $47.8 million this season and $215 million over the next four.
Curry’s response to the challenge, a 46-point barrage in leading the Warriors to a 113-104 victory over the Grizzlies on Thursday night at Chase Center, partly explains why he is worth every dollar.
“The greatest shooter of all time,” Memphis guard Ja Morant said of Curry.
Considering the Grizzlies had beaten the Warriors in the last two meetings, the game was as close as projected, considering Golden State’s No. 2 scorer Andrew Wiggins, and its No. 3 scorer, Jordan Poole, were unavailable, locked in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. So was the team’s No. 5 scorer, Damion Lee.
Veteran Andre Iguodala was out with knee soreness, and both Klay Thompson and James Wiseman are weeks away from their season debut.
The opponent and the slimmed roster fed a “Steph might have to carry us” vibe.
“Definitely wanted this one,” Curry said. “Definitely felt like it’s one you can’t let slip by because of the history, but also knowing what it was going to take to win a game like this with six of our top nine out.
“So, you carry that chip on your shoulder and understand it’s our homecourt. We’ve talked about protecting our homecourt no matter who comes in here, but there’s a little extra emphasis with teams that have beaten us a couple times in a row here.”
To whom, though, would the Warriors turn? They hoped for a big game – or at least a sizable uptick in production – from their designated shooters, specifically Otto Porter, who started in place of Wiggins, and Nemanja Bjelica, signed as a floor-spacing big man.
Instead, it was defensive specialist Gary Payton II, starting for Poole, as the teammate providing the bulk of the scoring support to aid Curry. Payton’s career-high 22 points were no less crucial than Curry’s outburst.
“Payton knocked down some big-time 3s for them and had some good back cuts for layups,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said.
No other Warrior scored in double figures. Bjelica had nine points, Draymond Green and Porter had eight each, while Kevon Looney, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jonathan Kuminga each finished with six. Rookie Moses Moody chipped in a bucket.
While the sum of those contributions is an accurate numeric definition of the trite phrase “team win,” the raw totals tell a cold truth: Curry’s massive output topped the combined scoring of all teammates not named Payton.
Curry was 13-of-22 from the field, including 8-of-14 from distance, and 12-of-12 from the line. It was the first time since Nov. 28 that he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and the first time since Dec. 8 that he was better than 40 percent from deep. That time span corresponded with his pursuit of the career record for 3-pointers.
“This was his most efficient game in a couple weeks, for sure,” Kerr said. “I think there was some pressing going on as he was nearing the record, but I think also over 82 games, you just know there’s going to be some ups and downs, and Steph never lets a few subpar shooting nights bother him.
“This didn’t surprise me. The law of averages (is) going to catch up.”
Who could have imagined that Memphis guard Dillon Brooks, the bulldog defender who probably gulps gunpowder before every encounter with Curry, would be victimized as the slump-buster?
“A lot of it was kind of around the record stuff, and the way teams have been guarding me, and my shot selection and that kind of dominating the narrative every game,” Curry said of his relative slide. “But I never get too high or low. It’s just over the course of 82 (games), figure out how to get to my standards and goals that I set in terms of efficiency and the numbers I want to shoot. Never lose confidence, just keep doing what I do.
“Whatever the matchup, I don’t get into the antics,” Curry said. “It’s about how you play. So, I enjoy nights like tonight.”
So do his coaches, his teammates and the entire population of Dub Nation.