There are games when Steph Curry strives to do a little more than “lock in,” as stated in his pregame ritual, games in which the competitor within yearns to make both primary and secondary statements.
Win the game. And also annihilate his individual opponent.
Such a game is on the schedule Thursday night, when the Warriors face the Suns in Phoenix. The marquee might as well say “Steph Curry vs. Chris Paul: A Clash of Future Hall of Famers.”
These two have history. Oh, do they have history. And no matter how many times Paul changes his jersey, most of it favors Curry.
Curry and the Warriors were 21-10 (playoffs included) against Paul’s “Lob City” Clippers. In the years since Curry’s 2012 right ankle surgery, his personal record against Paul, postseason included, is 26-18.
Yet Paul, who entered the NBA four years earlier, is widely considered the league’s “Point God,” the standard for the position. This probably is accurate, if the exalted title is defined by assists and floor generalship.
While Curry’s reputation is that he is a wickedly charming entertainer, thrilling fans and killing the hopes of opponents with an avalanche of 3-pointers, the reputation that clings to Paul is that he is best at making his teammates better, the traditional role of a point guard.
As if Curry does not.
Has anyone since prime Michael Jordan made each of his teammates better simply by being on the court? Curry’s presence gets the best out of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Got the best out of Kevin Durant. As marvelous as KD is on his own, the highest field-goal percentage of his career came in his first season as a Warrior. The highest effective field-goal percentage -- which takes into account the magnitude of 3-pointers -- of his career came in his first season with the Warriors, the second-highest in the following season.
The latest to receive profound benefit from Curry’s presence is Andrew Wiggins, who through 18 games this season is blowing away his norms across the shooting spectrum: Field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage.
Wiggins is aware that the improved efficiency in his game is influenced by the Steph Effect.
“It makes life easier, because it opens up the floor for everybody,” Wiggins said a couple weeks ago. “All the focus is on him, and he's coming down, he's making shots that you'd be like 'Whoa.' It's not a lot of shots he can't make. As soon as he steps over (the half-court line), he's a threat.
“He causes a lot of attention.”
David West is a basketball scholar of sorts, able to articulate similarities and subtle differences among players. As someone who was teammates with both, six seasons with Paul and two with Curry, West is able to offer a comparison based on first-hand experience.
“Steph is a different animal in terms of his approach to the offensive side of the ball and how dynamic he is, with his ability to change the game -- not just the game he’s playing but how we perceive the game,” West explained a couple years ago. “When Chris came in the league, there were so many established point guards, and he was a part of that crop that was supposed to carry the mantra on.
“Steph came in and just created his own space.”
Curry’s space is different from that of Paul. They each understand that. They each respect that.
But that’s why it can be difficult for the casual fan to fully appreciate Curry.
They know what Paul is because they’ve seen it before and his game, at its best, represents the highest levels of what has been familiar the existence of the NBA.
Curry is unlike anything to enter the league. There are echoes of Steve Nash (creativity) and Ray Allen (shooting) and Isiah Thomas (ballhandling) and Larry Bird (competitive cruelty). It’s a ridiculous package even before including the deep shooting swiped from the Harlem Globetrotters handbook.
Curry vs. Paul is more than Curry using ball-handling wizardry to spin Paul off balance. It is, in essence, traditional vs. evolved, the best of what is vs. the best of what can be. A clash of styles that often makes for blissful viewing.