Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry heard all the criticism. He’s aware of the criticisms about the Warriors’ inconsistency, his ability to carry a young team and how he can cope without Klay Thompson.
After scoring a career-high 62 points Sunday night, Curry joked he takes such slights just as a certain Chicago Bulls star once did.
“Cue the (Michael Jordan) meme,” Curry said.
The meme he was referencing comes from “The Last Dance” and shows Jordan saying he took slights, both real and imagined, personally.
But does Curry do that? After he led the Warriors to a 137-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers with his career-high 62-point outing, teammate Draymond Green observed that Curry “came out looking like a man on a mission” – for a specific reason.
“Just because of all the talk that has been going around,” Green said. “I could see it from the very first possession.”
Green observed that Curry looked to score and dominate his opponent, and nothing else. Curry shot 18-of-31 from the field, including 8-of-16 from 3-point range, and went 18-for-19 from the free-throw line.
It impressed the Warriors so much that rookie James Wiseman likened it to a performance he witnessed on “NBA 2K.”
What prompted Curry to post video-game like numbers?
“He said ‘enough,’ ” Green said. “People are always going to talk. That’s just the nature of the business we’re in. It’s always what have you done for me lately. It is what it is. He’ll have another bad game at some point, and they’ll keep talking.”
Lately, the talk has centered on whether Curry can dominate games the way he did when he won three NBA titles (2015, 2017, 2018), all with teams that also had another sharpshooter (in Thompson), a versatile playmaker (in Andre Iguodala) and a deep bench. On the latter two teams, Curry also teamed up with All-Star Kevin Durant.
This season? Curry and Green are still a dynamic duo, but they have teamed up with a Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick, two inconsistent shooters (in Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre) and a handful of unproven young players.
After the Warriors’ 25-point loss to Portland on Friday, Blazers guard Damian Lillard observed that Curry is “seeing that it’s tough to get those quality looks right now.”
“It’s different than what it’s looked like the last four to five years,” Lillard added
“The great ones are always confident in who they are no matter what’s said…,” Curry said. “It doesn’t affect us or me in that respect. When you win and you sustain that, you’re always going to have a target on your back and try to poke holes. That’s part of the business. I can’t answer any better than that. I like being talked about because there’s expectations.”
NBA fans and players talk about Curry for many reasons.
Curry entered the NBA in 2009 feeling like an underdog amid persistent concerns about his ankle durability and if he could become more than just an amazing outside shooter. He addressed those concerns by winning three NBA titles and climbing up to third place on the NBA’s all-time 3-point list, but some diminished those accomplishments.
Curry played with a handful of other All-Stars, people said.
“Everybody is always going to try to find a reason to nitpick something Steph does, whether it’s that you haven’t won a Finals MVP or you haven’t carried a team,’” Green said. “If I’m not mistaken, he carried the 2015 team pretty damn far. To be honest, he’s carried every team because he’s been the leader of the group since I’ve been here.”
Curry has dominated with finesse over strength, people contend.
“If you think about most of the guys who are considered the best players in the league, they’re physical freaks of nature,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “LeBron [James] Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Anthony Davis, whoever you want to throw in that group. So Steph is 6-3, 180 pounds, whatever he is so he has to carry the game with his skill. He can’t carry a game with his physicality and athleticism. That would be the only thing that I can think of that people would criticize him. It’s much harder to carry a team single-handedly by making 35-footers all day.”
Curry’s numbers also haven’t have looked as dominant without Durant, Iguodala and Thompson surrounding him. Curry shot only 40.9% in the the Warriors’ first four games during their 1-3 start last season before fracturing his right thumb and sitting out all but one game afterwards. Curry shot 42% in the first four games this season en route to a 2-3 start.
On Sunday, Curry scored 22 first-quarter points, the 27th time he has dropped at least 20 in a quarter during his career.
“I could just see Steph has a tendency at times to [mess] around with the basketball. There was no [messing] around,” Green said. “He came out and everything was shot or attack. I watched the guy’s eyes. He never looked to pass once. You could feel it.”
Curry contended he mostly played this way because of how Portland defended him. Kerr conceded the offensive playbook featured Curry operating more in pick-and-rolls than the ball-movement heavy system he prefers. Curry suggested he may differ his approach once his younger teammates learn the Warriors’ offense better.
It seems clear that Curry does not exactly take criticism the same way Jordan once did. Curry laughed and smiled over his brother, Seth, joking on Twitter that needs to do more to protect his legacy.
“I don’t get frazzled too easily. I’m very confident in who I am,” Curry said. “As a person and a basketball player, there’s not going to be anything you can say about me or to me that’s going to affect that. At the end of the day, that’s how I got here. I have a lot of people in my circle that understand what makes me tick. I try to enjoy this game and all the different challenges we experience having been around 12 years plus. It’s going to be that kind of narrative from here on out. I love everything about what this game offers and the competitiveness and fire. I never run from it.”