Stephen Curry’s ascension into the public spotlight began a year ago yesterday.
Curry scored 54 points in Madison Square Garden that night. He shot an astounding 11-of-13 from beyond the arc and a perfect 7-of-7 at the line. He finished around the rim five times on seven attempts.
He hit 24 of his 54 points from the right-wing and another nine from the corners. His shooting chart, seen below, is an approximate diagram of how modern NBA offenses should function; 21 of his 27 field goal attempts came from outside the three-point line or around the paint.
It remains, by every account including this one, one of the greatest shooting performances ever put on by a member of the Golden State Warriors. Only 12 players have ever scored 54-plus points while shooting 64 percent or more from the field (Michael Jordan did it three times, Tom Chambers twice). Curry was the second youngest player to do so, behind Jordan, and one of only two point guards (the other being Allen Iverson). He is also the only player to have shot and scored that well in a loss.
And that’s a shame. The New York Knicks defeated Golden State 109-105 that night. With Andrew Bogut and David Lee sitting, the Warriors were forced to play a punchless combination of Andris Biedrins and Festus Ezeli in the front line. It also forced Head Coach Mark Jackson to play unpolished rookies Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes for extended minutes from Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, they added just 7 points. Just two other Warriors – Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack – managed to finish the game in double figures.
The Knicks were considered Eastern Conference title contenders at the time (remarkable, considering where they stand two-thirds of the way through this season), with Carmelo Anthony on his way to a scoring title and the mercurial JR Smith gunning toward Sixth Man of the Year honors. Meanwhile, the Warriors were a middle of the road Western Conference team with a handful of interesting offensive weapons, a shaky defense and a solid bench.
Curry’s performance, though it came in a loss, elevated the team’s profile and expectations. It provided evidence of his ceiling as a leader and scorer and was a catalyst for his torrid second half, in which he averaged 26 points and more than 7 assists. Perhaps more importantly, it reinforced the notion that Golden State could sustain an effortful, meaningful culture after years of mediocrity.
Curry and the Warriors will return to Madison Square Garden tonight. While it would be unreasonable to expect Curry to shoot off another 54 points, a win this time would be welcome.