The Warriors came into this season knowing they needed the best of Stephen Curry and hoping they would get it. They were not as confident as he was.
After a summer of ambitious strength and speed training, Curry approached the season expecting it to be his best.
He’ll be 33 next month, and he’s the first to tell you he’s in his prime. After his 57-point fireworks show in a 134-132 loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night in Dallas, there is no reason to question the man.
The Warriors, seeing their hopes become reality, are now as bullish on Curry as he is on himself.
“He’s never played better,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re talking about a two-time MVP, three-time champion. I’ve never seen him like this. He just looks so strong to me. He’s obviously always been an incredible shooter, but he looks stronger to me just getting by people, fending them off on drives to the rim, finish, and of course the shot-making. It’s almost unfathomable what he’s doing out there.”
Curry’s 57 points – the second-highest total of his 12-year career – came on 19-of-31 shooting from the field, including 11-of-19 from distance. After an empty beginning, missing his first three shots and committing a turnover, he spent the rest of the evening torturing the Mavericks and dragging the Warriors to the brink of victory.
“Ridiculous, the shots he was hitting,” Kerr said. “The degree of difficulty, the ease with which he made them.”
This was Curry’s eighth career game with at least 50 points and his second such game this season. He scored a career-high 62 on win over the Trail Blazers on Jan. 3. He joins the legend Wilt Chamberlain as the only Warriors with multiple games of at least 57 points in one season.
This also was Curry’s 16th game with at least 10 3-balls, more than tripling the next man on the list, teammate Klay Thompson, who has five such games.
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“I feel strong and like I have a good rhythm,” Curry said. “Obviously, coming off of last year (when injuries forced him to miss 60 of 65 games), I am just enjoying being back out there and being healthy. I definitely feel in control of my game.”
The statistics, particularly in shooting, back him up. Curry is averaging 29.4 points per game, second-highest mark of his career. He’s shooting 48.1 percent from the field, including 42.6 percent beyond the arc; these numbers are slightly south of those posted in 2015-16, when he became the league’s first and only unanimous MVP.
“He’s one of the guys I’d pay a lot of money to watch play,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who was teammates with such legends as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.
Curry is putting together the kind of season that can build an incidental campaign for NBA MVP. He’s not out to win individual accolades, certainly not focusing on adding a third MVP award, but he’ll deserve consideration if the Warriors (12-11) climb into the top four in the Western Conference.
“It is kind of a weird season,” Curry said. “We are playing well and getting better as a team, but we just have to get those wins stacked up and then I think we will all feel a little bit better about ourselves.”
Curry is doing his part. More than his part. He is producing as he prepared during the extended offseason during workouts with personal trainer Brandon Payne, perhaps the only person as confident as Stephen was about his lofty expectations this season.
Payne insisted last September, before the Warriors went through a one-week minicamp, that Curry’s movements were getting more refined and his physique was gaining strength. And, of course, his skill level is constantly rising.
Curry, considering durability, definitely sought to add definition. Jordan did it. Kobe Bryant did it. It’s from the past-age-30 playbook of a lean superstar.
“I have always been a late bloomer, so it has always been a goal every summer since I got to the league,” Curry said. “You have to be able to match the physicality that is thrown at you. It helps to avoid injuries in certain situations.
“But with how I am guarded most nights, and when they put bigger defenders on me, it helps being able to take those bumps and hits and still stay on my lines when I am driving, being able to take that physical defense off the ball and still get to space and be able to shoot.”
Curry isn’t surprised by anything he is doing. The Warriors aren’t surprised, either, but they delighted that he is playing at the level they need to have a chance at even moderate success.