Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
Thirteen 3-pointers in 36 minutes. And only four misses from deep. Four. Monday night, Steph Curry did the inevitable, finally separating himself from Donyell Marshall and Kobe Bryant in the annals of NBA history by making more 3-pointers in one game than anyone ever has before en route to the Warriors’ 116–106 victory over the still-winless Pelicans. There were 13 teams playing on Monday not named the Golden State Warriors, and, in 36 minutes, Steph Curry alone made more shots from behind the arc than 11 of them. There are only 25 other players in the league who have made more than 13 3-pointers this season, period. Joe Johnson has 14 on the season — and that’s through 224 minutes.
With all due respect to the claims of Marshall, whose futurism goes underrated to this day (15 of Marshall’s 19 3-point attempts on that fateful March 13th of 2005 came from the corners; he hit 10 of them), Curry’s inferno Monday night marked the symbolic death of Kobe Bryant’s 12 3-pointers made back in 2003. It was the end of the historic 3-point barrage as something that could simply be considered a meeting with the divine.
When Kobe broke the record nearly 14 years ago against the Sonics, it felt like he had tapped into a completely different player — he became a catch-and-shoot specialist, the best version of the marksmen Shaq used to play with in his time with the Magic. And yet, it still didn’t feel completely natural; watching the footage all these years later, this was a Kobe who still hadn’t perfected the mechanics that would make him one of the greatest basketball soloists for the next decade. It still just felt like an extremely fortunate night for a player who was just then figuring out his greatness.
What Curry did against the Pelicans was something else. It was punctuation on a statement that he’d begun making last season. Curry didn’t just stamp out Kobe’s 3-point record, he defined what it means to demoralize a defender in the modern NBA. The 3-pointer off the dribble on a broken play is the new turnaround baseline fadeaway. It puts the shooter in a very specific, but highly volatile situation; it positions the defender in the best possible situation to force a stop. It is in that situation, though — whether it’s Curry scrambling between two defenders, or it’s Kobe with three seconds on the clock, still with his back to the basket — that you see the gears in motion, and you see all the times they’ve practiced this moment before. They show their math to you, and they flaunt it any time they can. (Hell, Curry’s dribbling is the only thing that makes any of his commercials remotely cool.) Suddenly the situation they’ve willfully put themselves in, and the defenders that are in play, are nothing more than scenery. In those moments, it can feel like they’ve set up elaborate puzzles just to show how quickly they can be solved.
The Warriors still haven’t found their sweet spot, and it might take a few more months before the imagery we had in our heads over the summer finds its way onto the hardwood. In the meantime, the Warriors have the luxury of Curry and Kevin Durant trading virtuosic performances for our regularly scheduled amusement. We were spoiled during the regular season by last year’s squad, but apparently there’s still history left to be made.