SAN FRANCISCO – Coaches knew it was coming. Players across the Warriors’ roster knew it was coming. Fans knew it was coming, too, and hoped to see it during the current homestand.
Assistant coach Bruce Fraser, who works specifically with Stephen Curry, took it a step further. The man known to all as “Q,” wanted to make sure it was coming Monday night.
He’d seen what we all had seen over Curry’s last four games, an average of 18.5 points, on 41.9-percent shooting, including 36.0 percent from deep. Curry had reduced his turnovers but also was missing shots he generally drains. In fairness, he was coping with some minor illness.
“We kind of talked about certain preparations into my shot, certain mechanics,” Curry said of Fraser. “He (said), ‘I need you to have a little more conviction when it’s time to shoot. Just a little seed he planted, and I took that into warmups and the rest of the game.”
Feeling better, his head in the right place, Curry set about punishing the evening’s opponents, the young and feisty Atlanta Hawks, torching them for a season-high 50 points.
Scoring 24 points in 16 first-half minutes, adding 26 more in 19 second-half minutes, Curry posted the highest point total by any player in the NBA this season. The Warriors wiped out a 15-point deficit and followed their leader to a 127-113 victory before a sellout crowd (18,064) at Chase Center.
When did it become apparent that this would be the night Curry put the scoreboard to work? When he scored 10 points in the first two minutes, according to Damion Lee and Andre Iguodala.
“Yeah, after the first two minutes of the game, Andre comes out of the tunnel and says ‘Damn, he got 10?’ ” Lee said. “And it’s just kind of one of those nights when he starts to see the ball go through and just the confidence in that.”
There were the obligatory M-V-P chants, with the volume increasing each time. Those on the Golden State bench alternated between slack-jawed astonishment and borderline delirium. And at the height of an evening that belonged to him, with the crowd fully engaged, there was Curry, arms aloft and waving, bouncing on his toes at center court.
This was Curry in full, aggressive from the jump, shooting marvelously (14-of-28 from the field, including 9-of-19 from distance and 13-of-13 from the line), passing beautifully (10 assists) and rebounding (seven) with the fervor of a power forward.
There’s your conviction.
“I hope people realize when they are watching is how competitive he is,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He rises to the occasion over and over again because he loves a challenge. (Tonight’s game) was a huge challenge. Down 15 against a team that is really talented and needed a win and they went to the East Finals last years. The whole deal.
“And you could see Steph’s competitiveness on full display, along with his skill.”
With no teammate scoring more than 16 points (Jordan Poole) and the defense arriving in the second half, it was Curry pulling the Warriors out of a hole and lifting them to their fourth consecutive win, pushing their record to an NBA-best 9-1.
With the defense getting serious and Curry pouring in 18 points, the Warriors took control in the third quarter, when they outscored the Hawks 41-20.
“He was amazing,” Kerr said. “I want to say I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’ve been watching it for seven years. So, I have seen something like it. Still, it’s incredible to watch.”
Along the way, Curry became, at age 33, the oldest player to post a 50-point, 10-assist game. He also joins Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry as the only players in franchise history assemble such a stat line.
“We knew it was coming,” Gary Payton II said of Curry’s performance, particularly the floater with 3:59 remaining to reach a nice, round 50.
Of course, it was coming. Having scored 20, 15, 19 and 20 points in his last four games, Curry was due for sizzling scoring performance, something on the order of 40 points.
He went beyond that. He got 50, a number brilliant enough to leave a lasting memory.