The league missed Stephen Curry. The real Stephen Curry, who is allowed to take and make as many ridiculous shots as he wishes without worrying about other superstar teammates. The guy who could put defenders on skates before going in for a crafty layup or shooting a step-back three. When he has got it going, which is very frequent these days, Steph might actually be the most spectacular player in NBA history.
Curry, who missed most of last season due to a broken hand, is back and arguably better than ever. Golden State, whose roster is completely depleted due to injuries and the departure of Kevin Durant, once again needs monster games from its two-time MVP to stay competitive, and Steph has been surpassing all expectations this season.
The fact that Curry has elevated himself to a legitimate MVP candidate on a team that has been at or below .500 the entire year speaks volumes to the kind of season he is having. He might not ultimately win the award, but Steph has put up some jaw-dropping performances while trying to keep his team afloat in the playoff race.
Sports Illustrated ranks the top five best performances from Stephen Curry this season.
5. Jan. 8 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Stats: 38 points, 11 assists, three steals, 9/14 three-pointers
The Clippers should have fared much better in this game. They have three elite perimeter defenders (Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard) to throw at Curry. Los Angeles has been the best perimeter shooting team in the league this season, so it has the offensive firepower to match buckets with the Warriors. The Clips were also ahead by as many as 20 points at the beginning of the third quarter.
Instead, Curry blitzed them late in the third quarter, scoring 19 points in seven minutes. Barraged with a combination of tough off-the-dribble threes and crafty layups, LA looked helpless trying to defend the 6' 3" guard. Steph, despite his teammates’ missing many open shots, also had one of his best passing games of the season, racking up 11 assists with only two turnovers. The Warriors guard also had one of his most efficient shooting games of the season, going 9 of 14 on three-pointers as he led Golden State to an incredible comeback victory.
4. April 12 vs. Denver Nuggets
Stats: 53 points, six rebounds, four assists, 10/18 three-pointers, 15/16 free throws
Overshadowed by Nuggets guard Jamal Murray’s tearing his ACL late in the game was Curry’s masterful offensive performance on April 12. Denver had entered the matchup destroying teams with its starting lineup and losing just one game since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline. Denver’s newfound strength did not matter to Curry, who torched the Nuggets defense for 53 points on only 24 shot attempts.
Steph proved once again in this game that no defense can take its eyes off him even for a second. Murray made that fatal mistake a few times, which allowed Curry to relocate and cash in on wide-open three-pointers. Even after scoring 30 points in the first half, the two-time MVP came out of halftime guns blazing, hitting four three-pointers and almost outscoring the entire Denver team by himself in the third quarter.
3. April 14 at Oklahoma City Thunder
Stats: 42 points, eight assists, six rebounds, 11/16 three-pointers
This performance from Curry, even though his counting stats were not particularly jaw-dropping, was every stat nerd’s delight. Against the Thunder, the Warriors guard scored 42 points on a bonkers 97.5 effective field goal percentage. Even more astonishingly, Steph played 30 minutes and finished with an unbelievable 191 offensive rating, meaning the Dubs were averaging close to two points per possession the entire time their star guard was on the court.
For the record, OKC was bringing over help for Curry’s defender the entire game. Help defense just does not really make a difference when Steph is on fire, making 11 of 16 three-pointers, and using his crafty ballhandling skills to blow by guys. When the Thunder did sell out their defense to try and stop him, Curry had no problem passing to a wide open shooter or cutter, racking up eight assists while playing just three quarters.
2. Feb. 6 at Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 57 points, five assists, 11/19 three-pointers, 8/8 free throws
With three key frontcourt players (James Wiseman, Eric Paschall, Kevon Looney) sidelined due to injury, the Warriors needed and received a herculean performance from Curry to be competitive in this game. The Golden State guard had his first of many games this season with 10 or more three-pointers along the way to racking up 57 points.
Curry and Draymond Green’s chemistry was also on full display in this game. The longtime teammates came on and off the court together, terrorizing the Mavericks with a flurry of pick-and-rolls, handoffs and off-the-ball actions. Green assisted on just over a third of Curry’s 19 made baskets, showing that they are still one of the most lethal big man and guard combos in the league.
1. Jan. 3 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Stats: 62 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, 8/16 three-pointers, 18/19 free throws
The Warriors had a rocky five-game start to the season. They were on the bad end of three blowouts from Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Portland. Damion Lee saved them from being winless after their first three games with a wild game-winner against the Bulls. Curry also had a combined plus-minus of -48 during that tenuous stretch, according to Basketball Reference.
Predictably, the skeptics started to become more vocal. Can Steph really be the guy who carries a mediocre team for an entire season? Could everyone have overrated Curry’s impact while he was playing next to incredible talent on their championship runs? Is the 2016 version of him dead?
Skeptics are one thing Steph has seen a lot of since he was a scrawny guard at Davidson, and he gave them an emphatic answer on Jan. 3. Curry recorded a career-high 62 points as he led the Dubs to a close win over the Blazers. The Warriors guard looked to be in attack mode from the outset of the game, racking up 21 points and six free throw attempts in the first quarter alone.
Steph’s performance was just the third time in NBA history a player scored at least 30 points in both halves of a game. He looked completely unstoppable, powering his team through an otherwise lackluster effort, and even threw in a couple of heat-checks at the end for good measure. When all is said and done for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer, this performance will rank very highly in terms of the most defining games of his career.
More NBA Stories: