1. Stephen Curry Caps Night With Shorts Story
NEW YORK -- Stephen Curry needed his shorts back.
In the minutes after an historic 54-point performance at Madison Square Garden, a Golden State Warriors official had gathered up his uniform to put away for safe keeping. It might end up, after all, in some Hall of Fame or on Curry's own wall someday.
But Curry still needed his shorts so he could go for his standard postgame treatment on his delicate ankles. They had to be fetched.
Those ankles have been the subject of so many questions over the past few years, especially the troublesome right one that needed two surgeries in less than a year. It made getting excited over Curry's future and his lithe shooting stroke feel risky. It made the Warriors stew over giving him a four-year, $44 million extension last fall when he'd managed to play just 26 games the season before.
Yet as Curry nailed 3-pointer after 3-pointer Wednesday night, winning the respect of the hard-to-impress Garden crowd as they broke into murmurs and gasps every time he touched the ball, it was a reminder of why it's easy to fall for Curry's immense shooting talent.
The Warriors lost to the New York Knicks, 109-105, mostly because they were without the suspended big man David Lee and the injured franchise center Andrew Bogut. Tyson Chandler had 28 rebounds, the second most in an NBA game this season, and the Knicks had 27 second-chance points to the Warriors' two. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Warriors just couldn't overcome that.
Curry didn't win, but he sure left everyone who watched with a memory.
He's been called too small, too injury-prone and too one-dimensional. But he's also one of the greatest pure shooters the NBA has seen in a generation. And he was showing it off.
"I've seen a lot of great performances in this building, and that goes up there," Warriors coach and former St. John's and Knicks guard Mark Jackson said. "That shooting performance was a thing of beauty. To the viewing audience, that's getting hot. To us, that's Steph Curry. He's as good of a shooter as anybody that's played."
Curry made 11 of 13 3-pointers, one off the single-game record of 12 held by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. It was truly a compliment to the Knicks that he only got 13 of them off, completely swarming him in the second half with traps and double-teams that limited his numbers. If you can call putting up the most points in the NBA this season "limiting."
He still scored 27 points in the second half, hitting several bombs that weren't just remarkable in their difficulty but in their precision as they ripped through the net like they were launched by a machine. Curry has long been an expert at dealing with teams throwing bodies at him to do anything to stop him from making another 3.
It reminded Curry of his first-ever trip to play in New York back in 2008 when West Virginia threw everything they had at him, but he still nailed three 3-pointers in the final minutes to lead tiny Davidson College to a win in the Jimmy V Classic.
"There was a lot of energy in the arena," Curry said. "When I made a couple shots you could hear the crowd a little bit. It was electric, and I was kind of running off adrenaline down the stretch."
Curry played all 48 minutes, which probably isn't exactly the best course of action. Jackson didn't think he had a choice, and his conscience, it seemed, wouldn't let him take Curry out. Not with him on a streak like this in that building in front of that crowd.
Including Tuesday's tough loss at Indiana, where Curry ended up in a scuffle that saw him get thrown to the court in a move that got the Pacers' Roy Hibbert suspended, Curry has now made a numbing 18 of 23 3-pointers.
Curry has that kind of ability, the kind that makes you throw the game plan under the bench and just watch.
"We were just getting out of his way and letting him do his thing," teammate Jarrett Jack said. "If you had an opportunity to screen his man you did it, whether it was part of the play or not."
A couple hours before the game, Curry found out he was getting fined $35,000 by the league for "escalating the altercation" with the Pacers. His new contract doesn't kick in until next season. This season, he earns $35,000 a game.
So he essentially was playing for free Wednesday night. And playing freely.
"Once I started to see that 3-ball go down in transition and all sorts of spots on the floor, I knew it was going to be a good night," Curry said. "My teammates started jabbing at me. They were in my ear, treating me like a pitcher who was throwing a no-hitter. Not touching my right hand and all that funny stuff."
Curry has played in 53 of the Warriors' 58 games thus far. He's tweaked his ankle a couple times, causing him to miss some games. It will probably continue to be a concern for the rest of his career. He's had a few shooting slumps this season. Actually, he's having the worst overall shooting season of his four-year career at 44 percent. He was snubbed by the coaches for an All-Star selection.
But this has been, without much doubt, a completely successful season. He's leading the Warriors in scoring, assists and steals and is proving more and more that he's not just a great shooter, but an excellent all-around player. He's proven his ankle has recovered from the surgeries. He's making the Warriors' investment, which was made before he played a game this year, look like a bargain.
Wednesday, even in a loss, was the cherry. There's great shooting nights and there's great shooting nights at the Garden. Curry's had plenty of the former in his young life, but he might never again have a night like the latter.
"I knew I was knocking down a lot of shots; I knew it was a good night," Curry said. "I just didn't realize what that meant."
2. Around the Association
MVP: I can't believe I'm typing this in 2013, but Jermaine O'Neal was the MVP of this game. O'Neal scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds off the bench and outplayed Tim Duncan down the stretch. Unexpected doesn't begin to describe it.
X factor: A mark of 71 percent from the foul line looks fine, but the Spurs missed free throws late in the game which could have sealed the win. None was bigger than the foul shot Manu Ginobili missed to put the Spurs up four, right before Wes Johnson tied the game at the fourth-quarter buzzer with a 3.
That was not who you'd expect the Spurs to lose to at home: The last time the Spurs lost at the AT&T Center was on Nov. 19 when they faced the Clippers. Since then, San Antonio was undefeated at home. Dropping their return game to the 19-39 Suns after a 7-2 Rodeo Road Trip was strange.
MVP: Al Horford. He set a career high with 34 points and continued his torrid February shooting, going 14 of 22 from the field. He pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked five shots as well. Horford deserves the "Eastern Conference Player of the Month who is Not Named LeBron James" award.
X factor: Josh Smith. Smith was almost equally as brilliant as Horford as he controlled the game in nearly every possible manner. He scored 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished seven assists. Most importantly, though, he orchestrated Atlanta's late-game offense and once again found Horford on the receiving end of their patented high-low.
That was impressive: The Hawks grabbed the game's momentum heading into halftime, and they maintained that momentum throughout most of the third quarter. They built a 20-point lead, but the Jazz battled back. Atlanta weathered the storm and outperformed the Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena, one of the toughest venues for traveling teams.
MVP: Andre Iguodala had a monster all-around game for the Nuggets, finishing with 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals.
X factor: Transition scoring. The Nuggets feasted on the break, getting a dunk or a layup on seemingly every other possession. The Blazers just couldn't keep up.
That was a fun PG battle: Ty Lawson and Damian Lillard both had explosive nights scoring the ball. Lillard finished with 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting, and Lawson had 30 on 12-for-22 shooting.
MVP: Is there any doubt? Steph Curry had the game of his life: 54 points (a career high) and 11 of 13 treys (ditto) on 18-for-28 shooting. He even added seven assists and three steals and played all 48 minutes. He's real good.
X factor: Tyson Chandler's 28 rebounds (also a career high) facing a Warrior team without David Lee were essential, but the New Yorkers do not manage to survive a bloody battle versus Curry the Impaler without myriad clutch shots that J.R. Smith nailed off the pine.
That was so beautiful: I was only a spectator, but when Curry entered the zone, I didn't want to move an inch, lest I disturb one of the inscrutable factors and/or otherworldly forces which had come together to yield this unreal, magical and yet seemingly effortlessly brilliant performance. That's why we watch basketball -- for the Jordans, for the Reggie Millers at MSG and for nights like Steph Curry had tonight.
MVP: Aside from his game-winner, Monta Ellis was a terror defensively, getting six steals and frustrating James Harden on countless drives.
That was a start: Rookie Donatas Motiejunas, getting his first career start, had 13 points, seven boards, five assists and one gorgeous spin-drive, offering a taste of the future for the Rockets at power forward.
Defining moment: After Brandon Jennings was trapped with nowhere to go, he passed to Ellis with one second remaining. Ellis, falling backwards, heaved a 3-pointer in desperation. It rattled around and went in. Ballgame.
MVP: Marc Gasol recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Teammate Zach Randolph gets honorable mention with his fifth consecutive double-double, with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Defining moment: Memphis battled back into the game when Dallas piled up six turnovers in the final six minutes of the first half. Overcoming a deficit as big as 25, Memphis scored 24 straight points from 34 seconds left in the first half until 3:51 left in the third quarter.
That was bizarre: Each half saw the teams alternate an 11-0 run to begin. Memphis had two days off before the game. It looked like they needed some time to shake off the rust. Clearly, Dallas is now a shell of its former self.
MVP: Kevin Durant. How special is a triple-double (18-11-10) in just 27 minutes of play? Since 1985, only two players have done it faster -- triple-double machine Fat Lever, and regular old machine Karl Malone. Not bad company.
X factor: Glass work. Oklahoma City dominated the backboards early on, securing a 15-3 rebounding advantage in the first quarter and a 48-25 advantage for the game.
Well that was a whooping. Durant and Russell Westbrook nearly outscored the Hornets on their own until they were mercifully pulled in the third quarter. The Hornets didn't have much of a chance without Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, but the Thunder didn't give them one, either.
3. Wednesday's Best
On the NBA's brightest stage in New York, Curry shined with an NBA season-high 54 points. He was 18 of 28 from the field, finishing one shy of the NBA record with 11 3-pointers. Curry's previous career best was 42 points. Kevin Durant's 52-point performance had been the best in the NBA this season.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Washington's gridlock: The worst is whatever caused Wizards coach Randy Wittman to utter this after a one-point loss to the Pistons. "It's bizarre to me. They didn't want to be coached. It was more about playing time, shots, rather than, 'What are we doing as a team and how am I playing while I'm out there?'"
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"They were in my ear, treating me like a pitcher who was throwing a no-hitter."
-- Warriors guard Stephen Curry, on how he was treated by teammates en route to his 54-point night.
8. Jermaine O'Neal Revival
9. Stat Check
It was a night of magical individual performances in the Knicks' 109-105 win against the Warriors at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Tyson Chandler pulled down 28 rebounds for the home team while Stephen Curry did his part for the visitors with a 54-point performance. Prior to Wednesday, the last regulation NBA game in which one player scored at least 50 points and another recorded at least 25 rebounds occurred on March 24, 1987. That night, Michael Jordan had 56 points for the home Bulls while Charles Barkley grabbed 25 rebounds for the visiting 76ers in a 93-91 Chicago victory.
10. Dunk Of The Night
Around the Association
MVP: This was a group effort for the Sacramento Kings. Seven players scored in double figures (John Salmons, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmer Fredette, Patrick Patterson, and James Johnson), and each of them deserve to be recognized.
X factor: The Kings aren't normally known for being a passing team. In fact, they're ranked second-to-last in assist ratio (15.6), per NBA.com. But tonight, Sacramento piled up 31 assists on 46 field goals.
That was a lot of points: After dropping 129 on the Miami Heat in their double-overtime loss on Tuesday, the Kings followed that up by hanging 125 on the Magic in regulation. If only Sacramento could play their games in Florida all the time.
MVP: After missing three games with a knee injury, Brandon Knight scored a career-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including five of six on 3-pointers. It was particularly telling that, with Knight on the bench most of the time, the Pistons scored just two points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. His offense was invaluable tonight.
LVP: John Wall had more turnovers (seven) than points (six).
X factor: If by "sorcery," Martell Webster meant Jose Calderon, he nailed it, because Calderon played like the real wizard. Calderon had 18 assists and just two turnovers, helping the Pistons assist 35 of their 39 field goals.
MVP: Dion Waiters attacked the rim relentlessly, racking up 23 points while shooting seven for 16 from the field and, more impressively, seven for eight from the charity stripe. He also flashed his above-average vision, chipping in six assists.
LVP: The Raptors' bench scored only eight points. Eight points! Three of the four Cavaliers who came off the bench scored in double digits.
That was frustrating: At least for DeMar DeRozan, who had a spectacular game with 34 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Rudy Gay also contributed 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists. In the end, the Raps' bit players failed them.