Commentary

Stephen Curry, a star ascending

Originally Published: April 29, 2013
By Ethan Sherwood Strauss | ESPN.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In leading the Golden State Warriors to a loud 115-101 Game 4 victory over the Denver Nuggets, Stephen Curry left his teammates elated and astonished. The locker room aftermath of Curry's 31 points in 33 minutes was something between joy and befuddlement.

Jarrett Jack struggled for a description, saying "You know when you're at a loss for words …" before trailing off into giggles. "I was just laughing, man," Jack finally managed.

Carl Landry had a similar way of framing whatever it was that he saw when Curry scored 22 points over a 5-minute, 12-second stretch of the third quarter. Landry started with, "Steph Curry …" before falling apart into belly chuckles.

[+] EnlargeCurry
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesStephen Curry's shooting spree left the Warriors one win away from finishing the Nuggets.

That collective giddiness stood in stark contrast to the crowd's shiver of concern when Curry took to the bench in the first quarter. The ankles were nagging him again, prompting Golden State's star to hang and shake his head below a towel.

Though the ankles comprise a chronic affliction for Curry, it's also one he's managed throughout the season and his career. Perhaps these "Curry to the bench" moments are now less a harbinger of doom than an annoyance, a nuisance to be weathered. That ominous sense of "Here we go again" is a place Curry has been before, and flourished thereafter.

"Here we go again" can also describe the ORACLE Arena ecstasy whenever Curry unleashes with these 3-point barrages that stretch the floor toward a new frontier. It's hard to say that Stephen Curry gets "hot" from long range because the shots just come so easily. It seems less like a man channeling an elusive supernatural force than merely accessing a singular talent that dwarfs anyone else's.

Through the ankle pain, Stephen Curry's redefining his game, averaging a full two more 3-point attempts per game after the All-Star break. Curry's launching 9.5 3-point attempts per game in this series. Last season, he was at a mere 4.7 3-point tries per contest.

Sunday, when asked about his expanding shot selection, Curry replied, "There are some [shots] that might look a little sketchy to most critics of basketball, but I feel very confident and my coach has confidence in me, and my teammates do."

That confidence was reflected when Andrew Bogut jumped in after Curry's explanation to say, "I'll add to that. Any time he dribbles the ball over half court, he's in range. If we can get him open anywhere in the half court, I'm setting the screen cuz' he's shooting the ball."

Bogut himself has been a force in the series, the defensive and rebounding presence required for Golden State to go small in David Lee's absence. The towering Aussie got some revenge on JaVale McGee, who dunked on Bogut in Game 1, with his own thundering cram over McGee's head. The Warriors center was crucial in keeping his team more than competitive during Curry's ankle respite.

Bogut was far from the only contributor to this resounding Warriors victory. Even rookie Draymond Green found his place in the game, scoring ably when Curry took to the bench again, after getting poked in the eye by Corey Brewer.

The Warriors are sharing the ball and thriving with their new spread-floor approach. It takes a team effort to get up 3-1 on a favored opponent. It also helps to have the NBA's newest superstar, as he finds his old limits absent on the biggest of stages.

Golden State coach Mark Jackson disagrees with the idea that Curry is suddenly a superstar, though. In Jackson's opinion, these playoffs are merely showcasing what he has known for a while. When questioned about the people designating Curry's superstardom, he replied: "Those guys are just coming to the hospital. The baby has been born already."

Long born or not, Stephen Curry's play is reframing how he's discussed among other stars. Long after the snickers, long after the head shakes, Jarrett Jack had some final thoughts on Curry and the best-point-guard discussion: "I don't know who has to get out of the conversation for him to get in, but he's definitely kicking the door down."

The door is down, and the Nuggets are down two games. To get back, they must overcome a man whose shot knows no distance.