OAKLAND — Despite missing 31 regular-season games last season with various ailments, Stephen Curry didn’t have any surgical procedures this offseason. Instead, he spent a month resting. Then, he had what he called the best summer of his NBA life.
Curry, 30, spent most of July in the Bay Area, didn’t make any of his usual business trips or vacations abroad. He spent time with his newborn son and two daughters, he played in golf tournaments and carved out time every day for basketball.
“He’s got a great life, don’t he?” said head coach Steve Kerr. “Part of what makes Steph great is who he is as a person, and what his life is about. He loves life. He takes so much joy out of every single day, whether he’s on the court, at home with his family, playing with his girls or his new baby boy, whether he’s with [wife] Ayesha or playing golf, Steph has a joy about him.”
One of Kerr’s four basic tenets is to play with joy, and on Wednesday, Curry shimmied, he shrugged, he asked the crowd for more noise, and with each of his 11 3-pointers, and for all of his career Oracle Arena-best 51 points, they obliged. Curry’s absurd shooting display — five of his 11 3-point makes came from 30 feet or farther — was more than enough to make the Dwight Howard-less Washington Wizards disappear, 144-122.
“Some of the shots he was making, you don’t ever see that,” said Washington head coach Scott Brooks. “… Stephen makes it look like he is playing a video game, because those shots are not normal shots to make, but he can make them.”
Curry passed Jamal Crawford for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time three-pointers list, and now has more 3-pointers (33) in his first five games of the regular season than anyone in NBA history, breaking his own record set during his unanimous-MVP 2015-16 season. Had he played the fourth quarter, he likely would have broken another of his NBA records: 13 threes in a game.
He did plenty of damage anyway. Curry shot 15-of-24 from the field and and 11-of-16 from three in just three quarters. He hit his first five from beyond the arc, including a 32-foot pull-up and a 34-foot runner, separated by a driving lay-up. Then, with 2:17 left in the first quarter, he took a 30-foot pull-up jumper to put Golden State up by 15.
“The last three in the first quarter is probably the funniest thing I’ve experienced on the court,” Curry said. “Two guys on my team are yelling at me … ‘Don’t pass it. Don’t pass it. You better shoot it.’ All that type of stuff, I’m hearing that while I’m dribbling down. It was kind of all the motivation you need to just launch it. Thankfully, it went in.”
He was so dominant in the 23-point first quarter Wednesday that Kevin Durant — who crossed over Jason Smith for his first of five straight buckets and a 10-point stanza — was a non-story.
“Ironically, Kevin was the one who got it going before the first timeout,” Kerr said. “I think he had 10 points just like that, nothing but net every shot.”
It was the same old Durant, same old impossible-to-defend shooter. Curry’s long-distance wizardry, though, found new ways to dazzle.
“I don’t even know how to describe what I witnessed tonight,” Kerr said. “Amazing. Video game stuff.”
Even when not beyond the arc, Curry could do no wrong. While getting fouled with just under two minutes to go in the first quarter, he hit the mother of all finger rolls, which soared high above the backboard and dutifully bounced into the basket. It didn’t count, of course, but he hit the two free throws to make up for it. After the first, MVP chants echoed throughout Oracle. Curry went 8-of-11 from the field, and 5-of-6 from three in the first 12 minutes. He did, however, miss two of the easiest lay-ups he’s had in his NBA career, by his own admission.
While Curry sat for the first 4:25 of the second quarter, Jordan Bell — who had figured to see increased minutes with the Wizards missing Dwight Howard — took the lead. After seeing just 6.3 minutes per game over the first four — and not playing at all against Utah — Bell slammed home two dunks in six second-quarter minutes, including a lob from Draymond Green that came in behind his head. Bell finished 4-for-4 from the field in a season-high 20 minutes.
Curry quickly seized the game back, though, with a side-step three in the far corner to give Golden State a 71-61 lead. As the halftime horn sounded, he crossed Thomas Satoranski over twice, seemingly just because he could, and then nonchalantly passed off to Durant for a jumper.
Curry’s first-half line: 10-of-14, six 3-pointers, 31 points, 20 minutes. Durant, playing second fiddle, had the quietest 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting one could ever hope to see. Durant finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, hitting an exclamation point dunk with 9:20 to go in the game. It was only the second time in team history that Golden State has had players finish with 50 and 30 in the same game.
With 4:15 to go in the third quarter, Durant couldn’t finish an alley-oop on a behind-the-back, over-the-head pass from Curry on the break, so Curry grabbed the rebound, hit a three from the corner and drew a foul as he tumbled into the Washington bench. As he counted off four points on his hand, the crowd once again chanted MVP.
“He’s a pure artist,” Durant said. “Tonight, it was no different.”
Moments later, after Markeif Morris hit a nifty baseline jumper, Curry responded with a wide-open step-back corner three. The next trip down the court, after an Andre Iguodala miss, Durant swung the ball to Curry on the line. Curry stepped back and hit a 31-footer for his 10th triple, marking the 10th time in his career he’d reached double-digit 3-pointers — the most in NBA history. As he backed his way up the court, he shrugged three times. The arena went wild. Again.
“I had no explanation for what was going on besides just ultimate confidence and rhythm,” Curry said. “Just having fun. I was looking at Quinn Cook, because he was looking at me like, ‘What’s going on?’ That was my answer.”
Oracle only got louder as Curry hit his 11th three — this one on the run — leaning in from 32 feet out to give Golden State a 115-93 lead with a minute to go in the third.
“Seemed like some of the ones he missed might have been from a little further, and I wasn’t even mad that he took them,” Kerr said. “You get a guy taking 40-footers, and you’re on the sidelines going, ‘Yeah, that’s a good shot. Good job.’ Explain that. We have never seen this before.”