Stephen Curry heard the criticism last week. He heard that his success is due in part to a lack of legitimate perimeter defense in the N.B.A. He heard that today’s stars don’t play tough enough to stop him.
To put it bluntly, there was no defense in history that could have stopped Curry at the end of the Warriors’ game against the Thunder on Saturday night.
Playing on the road in Oklahoma City, the Warriors were tied with the Thunder, 118-118, when Andre Iguodala pulled down a missed jumper by Russell Westbrook with about six seconds remaining in overtime. The Warriors could have called a timeout to set up their offense, but Iguodala instead tossed the ball to Curry, who casually made his way across midcourt. Before the Thunder could put together anything resembling a defensive play against him, Curry launched the ball toward the hoop from more than 32 feet.
Swish. In addition to beating the rival Thunder, Curry broke his own record for most 3-pointers in a season (286) and tied for most in a game (12).
“What was that, 40 feet?” Draymond Green asked reporters after the game. “That’s absurd.”
To put the shot into perspective, consider the 3-point arc is approximately 23 feet 9 inches from the basket. By launching it so quickly, Curry took the shot well before Andre Roberson, a stout defender for the Thunder, could get back to defend him.
Curry’s 46-point effort completed a four-game stretch in which he averaged 43.8 points a game while shooting 61.1 percent from 3-point range, which was actually better than the 60.8 percent that he had shot from the field over all. For the season, he is leading the N.B.A. in scoring at 30.7 points a game, and appears to be a lock to be the eighth player in N.B.A. history to complete a so-called 50-40-90 season in which he shoots 50 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better from 3-point range and 90 percent or better from the free-throw line.
The best in the N.B.A. have given Curry his due:
With all the praise has come the expected criticism, with some veterans of previous eras trying to justify how the game was superior when they played.
Oscar Robertson, a Hall of Famer best known for averaging a triple-double for the Cincinnati Royals in the 1961-62 season, seems intent on writing off Curry’s success as a product of bad defense rather than superior marksmanship.
“When I played years ago, if you shot a shot outside and hit it, the next time I’m going to be up on top of you,” Robertson told reporters. “I’m going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don’t do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I’m concerned.”
Many former players rushed to agree with Robertson that Curry’s success is a result of the deficiencies of his era while their success was somehow more pure.
One of the most reasonable viewpoints surprisingly has come from Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Fame guard from the Detroit Pistons who has often had his credibility questioned after a checkered history as a league executive.
Thomas backed up Robertson’s assertion that the dearth of perimeter defense was a huge flaw in today’s game, but unlike Robertson and many other critics, he acknowledged that Curry can truly be judged only for the era he plays in, since there is no way to know how his talent would translate to earlier incarnations of the game.
“The game has changed,” Thomas said on an appearance on the “Mike & Mike” radio show. “You can’t really apply the rules of my era to this one. We have to appreciate what Steph is doing under the rules he’s playing under, and he’s the best player under the circumstances.”
While Coach Steve Kerr has been vocal in defending Curry, poking fun at the stars of previous eras who have chosen to criticize the N.B.A.’s reigning most valuable player, perhaps the best defense came from Andrew Bogut, Golden State’s lumbering center, who mocked the old-timers on Twitter.
But for Curry, who has called the criticism “annoying”, the best response was to take a shot that was indefensible in the sense that no one should take it, indefensible in the sense that no one can stop it, and incredible because Curry seemed to have no doubt that it would go in despite what every coach other than Kerr would tell you.
And when the shot went in, Curry smiled and danced, just like Cam Newton (the star quarterback of Curry’s beloved Carolina Panthers). And like Newton, he did not seem to care if the old-timers found the whole thing off-putting.