The Golden State Warriors did not beat the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. For the Dubs, it marked their eighth loss in the last 11 games, and concluded a month of February that saw them beat a team other than the Suns or Timberwolves, uh, once.
Then why aren’t Warriors fans scrambling for the “oh god, it’s happening again” button? Why, despite New York checking the always important “score more points than your opponent” box on their dossiers, did it feel like Golden State walked out of the world’s most famous arena with a victory?
I could give you 54 answers to that query, but I’ll stick with the simple one: for the first time since the days of Run TMC, the Warriors have a true star wearing their colors. Stephen Curry has arrived, ladies and gentlemen, and he’ll be here all decade. Forget All-Star, No. 30 is a supernova.
Just how impressive was Curry’s one-man show? It’s arguably the greatest shooting performance by a visiting player in MSG history, for one. Curry finished a jaw-dropping 11-of-13 from three, dropping one long-range shot after another no matter how many Knicks put a hand in his face. His 11 treys are three more than any other Knicks opponent has ever hit in one game in New York. Of the top nine scoring performances the Knickerbockers have allowed on their home court, a list on which Curry now ranks fourth, none took fewer shots than the Warriors’ main man.
It’s even more mind boggling to consider that Curry essentially put up his numbers in three quarters’ time. With just four points after the opening period and Golden State’s offense sputtering without the suspended David Lee, either Curry or Mark Jackson (perhaps both) determined that there was only one avenue to victory. Stephen proceeded to feed the Knicks a 50-burger over the last 36 minutes.
It’s easy to score those points in bunches when the game is out of hand. Defenses relax a smidgen, coaches stick to schemes and fundamentals rather than focus on any particular player, and the only suffocating pressure in the building is reserved for beat writers trying to find a lede. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday. With the outcome in doubt until the last seven or so seconds, and everyone in the New York-Metropolitan area aware that Curry was getting the ball on every possession, he never flinched. At one point in the fourth quarter, Curry began to drive the lane, and four Knicks defenders immediately converged on him. He eluded two, spun around another and hit a short-range fadeaway over the last. That’s what one might call “unstoppable.”
“He hit a couple shots, and I don’t think he looked at the rim,” Tyson Chandler said following his team’s 109-105 triumph, which must have felt more like a survival. “He’s a special young player, with a very unique talent.”
The coolest aspect of Curry’s evening, of course, was the venue. Many long-held sports tenets are inaccurate–or at the very least in need of an update–but Madison Square Garden’s reputation as “the” stage in pro basketball is not one of them. Knicks fans don’t just go there to watch their team win; they are looking for a great performance, no matter who gives it. Even watching from home, you could feel the crowd start to react every time Curry touched the ball, and emit a totally unique, collective groan-cheer hybrid every time another three went down.
I recognized that noise, and I knew exactly where I’d heard it before. After the game ended, I cued up ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary “Winning Time”, about Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller’s fierce rivalry with the Knicks in the mid-90’s. Every time Miller drained another big shot, there was the noise. It’s the same tumult Michael Jordan heard during his 55-point comeback game, that Kobe Bryant experienced when he dropped 61. It’s a buzz that manages to convey both disappointment and respect, and there wasn’t a single part of Curry’s 54-point explosion on Wednesday that didn’t demand the latter.
That respect will probably cost Curry the chance to score 54 again any time soon, but it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The Warriors’ decisions to pick the undersized guard from Davidson, choose him over Monta Ellis when many wanted the organization to do the opposite, and make him the center of the offense are all validated now. The league’s newest bona fide star showed up to the party a while ago, but it was only on Wednesday night that he finally became the life of it.