We know the precise moment when Stephen Curry realized he was back. In the midst of a historic extra-session scoring run, he screamed it, on camera, after hitting his fourth 3 with less than two minutes remaining in Game 4 of the Warriors’ second-round playoff series against Portland on Monday. If it wasn’t obvious already, the last few weeks were just a temporary reprieve for the rest of the NBA: When he’s here, this is still Curry’s league.
Even though the Warriors have looked more vulnerable during the postseason than they ever did during the first 82 games, these playoffs have seen crucial windows of opportunity shutting almost as quickly as they’ve appeared. First, the Clippers had found the opening they’d sought all season when Curry went down with his knee injury in the first round. Then their fortunes turned completely sideways when Chris Paul fractured his hand and Blake Griffin reinjured his quad the next day. Before Curry’s rejuvenation, the Thunder-Spurs series felt urgent. It still does, but it’s different now. Suddenly it feels a little more like a fight for no. 2, like it had all year. And for all the record-setting highs the Cavs have set this postseason, they still aren’t quite able to match the magnetism of this Warriors team running at full steam.
Yesterday, before Curry’s MVP ceremony started, a video of his teammates filled the screen. They were asked to pick their favorite Curry highlight of the season. Harrison Barnes chose the rare one-handed jam against the Wizards; Shaun Livingston lauded the entirety of Curry’s 53-point Halloween massacre in New Orleans; Anderson Varejao thought it was definitely the game-winning 37-footer against the Thunder. Good on his teammates for being able to pinpoint specifics, but I don’t know if picking a single highlight gets to the heart of Curry’s greatness.
His highlights blur together, just as he blurs the lines of work and play, of practice and prime time. The tapestry woven by his interconnected crossovers is an ongoing passion project, whether he’s crossing up invisible defenders in front of early-bird fans, or C.J. McCollum late in Game 4. The array of long bombs he’s dropped this season is, in a way, a display of transparency. We may throw our hands up when they go in, but we’ve seen him practice so many times that we know exactly what it took out of him for that to happen. And that’s what’s so scary about the Warriors for fans and opposing teams alike. We know what they are capable of. With Curry on the floor, they’re capable of anything.
This piece originally appeared in the May 11, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.