Steph Curry’s evening started with four missed shots in a row, a turnover from a sloppy pass and an early personal foul.
Hounded to death by Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, quickly transforming his team name into a state of being, Memphis fought tooth, snout and claw to gain an early nine-point lead.
His evening ended with 46 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists, the scoring title and the eighth seed. Oh, and LeBron James anointing him the MVP of the league, two days ahead of the Lakers vs Warriors Play-In matchup.
As if often the case with all things relating to Curry, this supernova disguised as a basketball player, you are left wondering only one thing.
How on earth did that happen?
It’s testament to Curry’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature, a before and after snapshot of an avalanche.
One moment he appears to have dribbled himself into a corner, or in the thick of an impossible sea of defenders. The next he’s putting the ball through his legs faster than you can blink and swishing a three over whoever, whatever is in front of him. When you open your eyes again he’s already shimmying back down the court.
For the myriad players in the NBA that demand your attention whenever they are on the floor, Curry might be the most selfishly intoxicating. Even observing his full array of jukes and subtle body feints to shake off opposing players and gain that fraction of a second, all he needs for that gorgeous, devastating slingshot release of his, is entertainment enough.
Somehow it makes taking in the full Broadway production – mesmeric handle, craftly floaters, reverse-spin layups, over-the-shoulder no-look passes and a give-and-go to-me-to-you telepathy shared with Draymond Green – almost too decadent to handle.
There was a time when Curry’s unique freedom from logic masqueraded as arrogance. Let’s be clear: this is anything but. He shoots from outer space and twists through entire defenses on a whim not because he thinks the established rules don’t apply to him. He does so for the pure, joyous sake of it. Of trying something.
How else do you explain it?
On Sunday night he became the second oldest scoring champion, at 33, behind only Michael Jordan, who was 35 when he took the crown in 1997-98. It was his 11th 40-point game of the season, the most in the NBA.
In a crucial game, while swamped by every bear in a Memphis jersey, he took 36 shots – including 22 from three, making 9. Both register as the most attempts he has ever taken in a game, playoffs or otherwise.
Over the course of the season, Curry averaged 5.3 made threes per game, the most in NBA history, breaking his own record of 5.1.
Then after hitting his final three-point bomb to ice the game, a dizzying step-back with a hand in his face (how else?), Curry pulled his jersey up to his chest like Baron Davis did on the ‘We Believe’ Warriors 14 years prior.
An acute sense of history, perhaps, but more an instinctive reaction than a measured one. Nobody radiates their own giddy enjoyment quite like Steph.
What I mean is, no other athlete gets as close to making us feel as they do. When they hit a clutch three in a must-win encounter, pull off an unthinkable, one in a million play or make history (again).
Somehow, with Curry, you taste it with him, even sat at home, tossing a scrunched-up crisp packet from the sofa into a teacup.
After his game against the Pelicans, which the Lakers had to win to have any hope of avoiding Curry in the first Play-In game, James spoke of a shared DNA with the Warriors point guard.
Both were born in Akron, Ohio, and seemed, at least for a little while, to have their fates permanently entwined during that run of finals between Golden State and Cleveland.
“Our paths have been crossed again. It’s always been a level of respect beyond the game of basketball, the way I feel for Steph,” James said.
He then reeled off some of the staggering numbers behind Curry’s season before stating: “I don’t know anything else if you’re looking for an MVP. If Steph isn’t on Golden State’s team… then what are we looking at?”
“Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season. All year.” Even LeBron can’t help his own reverence, a few days before the two meet again in an (almost) do-or-die fight for the playoffs.
In this year’s All-Star Game, we caught a glimpse of both the pleasure the two would share playing on the same team and the cool destruction they would unleash on any mortals in their path. Poseidon tossing Zeus alley-oops.
There’s a reason for that, candid awe from the greatest player of this generation, as there is for Ja Morant, the Grizzlies phenom’, also tweeting that Curry is ‘MVP no debate’ immediately following their game.
Because he’s Steph. There’s nobody like him.
Despite everything, he will not win the MVP award, and the Golden State Warriors are not getting anywhere near the NBA Finals. But maybe that’s the lesson here. In a league that is geared towards winning above all, rings or nothing, championship or bust, Curry remains the great antidote, the anomaly and the antithesis all at once.
Yes, sport is about competition. Victory. Triumph. For that message we have Michael Jordan, The Last Dance and “I took that personally” to thank. However, that is never the only thing. It’s also about the simple ecstasy of watching a ball fly through a hoop. A smile on a face. A person do the thing they love most in this world and have more fun than anyone doing it.
In fact, most of the time, sport is only really about making you feel something. And his euphoria seems the most widely distributed, shared among all who bear witness. Echoed through the Chase Center. Our laptops, mobile phones and television screens. In the likes of Trae Young and LaMelo Ball. Generations to come who want to shoot threes before they can make a layup. Maybe even his own son.
There is only one lesson here. Watch Steph Curry play basketball every single chance you get. If you need to, pretend he’s never going to stop.