April 17, 2024

The Golden State Warriors were losing their grip on an early season test against the rival Sacramento Kings, and Stephen Curry had seen enough. It was Oct. 27, and Golden 1 Center fans had witnessed a furious 20-6 fourth-quarter run to cut the Warriors’ lead — 15 points just three minutes earlier — to five points with 45 seconds remaining.

As Andrew Wiggins cut to the basket, pulling two defenders toward him, Curry snuck out to the top of the 3-point line as two Kings unsuccessfully closed out.

Night night.

The 41-point performance in the second game of the season — a 122-114 win for the Warriors — has set the tone for a red-hot start, even by Steph standards.

Curry is averaging 30.9 points per game on 55.1% from the field, 46.5% from 3 and 94.4% from the free throw line. He is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 through his first eight games of a season at age 35 or older, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

This is also the third time Curry has averaged 30 points on 50-45-90 shooting splits through his first eight games of a season — a feat no other NBA player has done.

Curry has also led the Warriors outright in scoring in all eight games this season, the longest streak to begin a season by a player at age 35 or older in NBA history.

“He is one of the hardest workers to play the game,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson told ESPN of Curry’s hot start. “The sky is the limit. He might change the narrative of what it looks like to be elite till you’re 40. LeBron [James] is doing the same and Steph is following suit.”

Curry has already had a handful of dazzling moments this season: his big game in Sacramento, the “Kevin McCallister from Home Alone” celebration after cooking Dillon Brooks in Houston, and his last-second game-winner (though controversial) in Oklahoma City.

But unlike last season, the Warriors aren’t relying on Curry’s theatrics to keep the offense running.

Curry started hot last season before suffering a shoulder injury in December. In his first 26 games, Curry averaged 30.0 points on 50-43-92 shooting splits, ranking in the top five in total points with 131 3-pointers, 26 more than any other. The Warriors desperately needed Curry to dominate games just to have a shot at winning.

When he sat, Golden State would drown. From the start of the 2022-23 season to Curry’s injury in December, the Warriors had a 118.9 offensive efficiency with him on the floor, a figure that dropped to 99.9 when he was off the court. The last team to have an offensive efficiency below 100.0 points per 100 possessions for an entire season was the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 10-72.

Curry’s minutes were high. His workload was higher.

The team’s improved defense this season has ensured the Warriors can stay in games if Curry sits. In 130 minutes without Curry on the floor, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions. They are giving up just 98.2 points per 100 possessions when Curry is on the bench.

“It helps you become a better team because you can withstand the [opponent’s] energy,” Curry told ESPN. “It gives everybody confidence that [I] don’t have to do anything miraculous, we can just go hoop and get a win. Which, stats and all that aside, that’s all you’re thinking about.”

Another reason has been the lack of turnovers, an effort spearheaded by offseason acquisition and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. When Curry is on the bench, the Warriors have a top-5 turnover percentage in the league. And according to Second Spectrum, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by more than 13 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor and Curry off of it.

“Our bench unit is way better than our starting unit right now, in terms of plus-minus, and Chris is a big reason why,” Curry said. “The lead is maintaining or building, or even they’ve come back a couple times and got us back in it.”

And about the only thing that surprised Curry so far this season was that moment against Brooks in Houston after hitting a 3-pointer and adding the “Kevin McAllister” to his long list of celebrations that include his signature shimmy shake and famous night-night.

“You surprise yourself — not that the move [I] put together but that it was in that moment on top of the three 3’s that I already hit,” Curry said. “I’m just having fun out there and there’s a good flow … you have that reaction because there’s a sense of joy and accomplishment. There’s nothing choreographed, as awkward and hilarious as it is.”

Whether on the court or off, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has said there are no superlatives left to describe the greatness of Curry. Kerr has compared Curry to Michael Jordan, his former teammate on the Chicago Bulls, and has said watching Curry pour in the points is akin to a religious experience.

“It’s amazing to watch him. He looks better than ever at 35,” Kerr said. “He puts the work in every summer and keeps looking for ways to get better. … There’s a reason he is Steph Curry.”

“You sit back in awe and just appreciate it,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told ESPN. “We had that back-to-back in Houston and New Orleans [last week] and he took over both of those games.”

And all of it leads to the argument — as early in the season as it is — that Curry could make a strong push to win his third MVP, the oldest player to ever receive the award.

“Absolutely, he can be MVP,” Green said. “100%.”

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