The surreal isn’t supposed to be routine, but somehow Curry and the Golden State Warriors keep bending reality to their whim. In a 116-99 squashing of the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, Curry manifested a home crowd in his hometown. He galvanized the Charlotte fans with a 28-point third quarter and 40 total points (on 18 shots). He scored Golden State’s last 24 points of the period. He scored his last 14 points in the final 1 minute, 53 seconds of the quarter, sinking four 3-pointers at an average distance of 28.5 feet.
Those are impressive numbers, but they can’t quite convey the entirety of the experience. He did it right after his father, Dell, was honored by the team in an emotional halftime commemoration. He did it with multiple Carolina Panthers -- Steph’s favorite football team -- in attendance, including an enthusiastic Cam Newton on the sideline. With that stage set, Steph elevated moment after moment, unleashing an incredible crescendo of 3s.
It was a performance stunning enough to make you forget about Golden State’s record-breaking 20-game win streak to open the season, while at the same time reminding you of how such a streak is even possible. It’s possible because the MVP got even better, because he keeps building toward a future only he envisioned. "Conventional wisdom didn't expect Curry to have this good a year," is a sentence applicable to four consecutive seasons now. When asked if he gets amazed by his own recent performances, Curry said, “You don't expect to make six out of six in the third quarter. But the shots that I take -- I say this all the time -- are the ones I practice, ones I've taken plenty of times. You expect to make them.” He was shooting some of them, highly contested, from 30 feet away.
That’s vintage Curry, the personality. His self-belief is such that he’s calm about how this has all unfolded, as though his skyward ascent was as predictable as the rising sun. People in his camp confide that they never saw this level of play coming when he was a rookie. Curry, though, is an evangelist for confidence. To hear him tell it, this was always the trajectory, that what’s happening is more a blessing than a shock.
When asked if Curry can surprise himself, interim coach Luke Walton chuckled, saying, “He can't surprise himself because when he's feeling it and he shoots the ball, he's already running back to half court. So he knows before the rest of us that the ball's going in.”
Bruce Fraser, who serves as player development coach for Curry’s shooting practice, said that he could see a game like Wednesday’s unfolding before the action started. Fraser always gets a sense of where Curry is from his pregame shooting routine, rating this recent one a C on the Steph curve. That lukewarm warmup was possibly random and possibly related to the host of distractions he faces in Charlotte. Fraser believed that, after Curry conquered the initial hurdle of playing at home, he could use that energy to his advantage. In short, a slow start, followed by a strong finish. Fraser said, “I felt like he may not have a great start, but once he got a feel for the game, he would ride the wave.”
He was riding a tsunami, based on that shooting night. Curry didn’t always know how to manage the emotional return home, according to the man himself. When asked if he tried not to do too much at the beginning of this game, Curry told ESPN, “I've learned, yeah. My second or third year here, I was tripping. But I figured it out now.”
Curry might have more than the Charlotte road swing figured. This is his fifth game of the season in which he has scored more than 20 points in a quarter. He’s averaging 32 points in 34.3 minutes on 20.2 shots -- a 70 percent true shooting percentage. His season is an absurdity that just keeps topping itself.
There were, indeed, other factors in this game besides Curry toying with solar flares. Curry began by deferring to Thompson, who scored 21 points, before taking over. The Warriors set up the Curry explosion by using back cuts and movement, forcing the Hornets to soften up on the perimeter. Andrew Bogut had a stout defensive effort, as did Draymond Green.
Most of that will be quickly forgotten, though, obliterated by the Steph show. On a night like Wednesday, maybe Marreese Speights colorfully tells you all you need to know: “Steph had them red eyes, them red killer eyes, especially in front of his fans. He did that in three quarters. That's it. He's MVP.”