It was a clash of the heavyweights when the top teams of each conference squared off for a rematch in a Wednesday night showdown at Oracle Arena. After circling this very game on their calendar, the Golden State Warriors came into this affair knowing that the sweetest revenge was a decisive victory. Using flashy passes, emphatic dunks and a three-point barrage, the Warriors roared past the Atlanta Hawks, 114-95.
Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala combined for a staggering 46 points, while only missing five shots. Golden State as a team shot 52 percent from the floor and 46 percent from beyond the arc. These two energy players, along with Draymond Green, are providing their team with a level of production that could lead them to a ton success in the playoffs.
But neither of them will be looked upon as THE GUY that could ultimately lead them to the promised land.
Back on Feb. 6 in Atlanta, Stephen Curry struggled from the field, shooting just 8-of-19 for 26 points in a 124-116 loss. But the sharpshooter from Ohio made sure things would go in a different direction this time around.
Curry boosted his MVP campaign with an outstanding performance in Wednesday’s victory, tallying 16 points, 12 assists and four rebounds. Although he didn’t shoot well from the field (4-of-11), he imposed his will by getting his teammates involved throughout the entire game. The Warriors outscored the Hawks by 16 points while Curry was on the floor.
Klay Thompson didn’t play in this one due to a sprained ankle, and he’ll likely be out for the next week or so. For all the Curry fans who aren’t satisfied with just the one three-point contest trophy, this might be just what the doctor ordered – pardon the pun. With their second leading scorer shelved for a bit more time, Curry could make strides to capture his first MVP award.
The Warriors improved to a league-best 54-13 overall and 31-2 at home. Leading the Western Conference by 7½ games, they’re well on their way to locking up the No. 1 seed. They lead the NBA in three-point shooting and points per game, as well as holding the league’s best average point differential by far. The team chemistry and morale that has been built up over the course of the year has led to great results.
So now you ask, how does Curry fit into all of this?
Well … he leads the Warriors in points (23.4), assists (7.9) and steals (2.1) per game. In his fifth year in the NBA, he has taken over as the leader of this team and it has paid dividends in their success. His 27.63 PER ranks fourth in the entire league, and for a player that does most of his damage from downtown, that’s pretty darn impressive.
In addition, Curry is first in the NBA in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat and first in raw plus-minus as well, per NBA.com. This speaks directly to how important he is to the Warriors. It’s simple, when Curry is on the floor, the Warriors play their best basketball. Sending double-team’s in his direction won’t help because Steph has done an incredible job ameliorating his game in terms of finding the open man consistently. The confidence he has instilled in his other guys is paying off significantly.
We know Curry has made his shooting prowess evident since he came to the league. Every night he’s a threat to light you up from outside. He’s unequivocally one of the best shooters we’ve ever seen, but he’s also a magician with the basketball. His excellent dribbling skills present him with the ability to maneuver through traffic and finish in the lane over bigger defenders. It seems like every night he makes a difficult move like easy.
For much of the season, I prognosticated that James Harden would ultimately win the MVP because of what his Houston Rockets have done in a tough conference sans Dwight Howard, their second-best player, for an extended period. Harden is clearly playing with a less talented roster than Curry is, but both individuals are flat out inexorable. This race is a tight one, and it will come down to these last few weeks of the regular season.
As a fan, you just wish there was some way these guys could compete against each other to settle the score. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, and the Rockets and Warriors don’t play again. (Golden State went 4-0 in the season series.) So embrace yourselves for an exciting finish to the regular season.