SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry heard all the noise.
After struggling to find his rhythm throughout the first week of the regular season, the Golden State Warriors‘ star guard exploded for a career-high 62 points in a 137-122 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night at Chase Center. After seeing and hearing all the chatter surrounding his game and the Warriors’ future, much of which came on social media, Curry decided to remind the basketball world just how dominant he can still be on any given night.
“Cue the Jordan meme, right?” Curry said during a postgame video conference with reporters. “I take all that personally.”
In a career filled with sparkling performances, Curry’s domination of the Blazers was arguably the best of his career. He finished 18-for-31 from the field, including 8-for-16 from beyond the arc, and was 18-of-19 from the free throw line with five rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes.
Curry, whose previous career high was 54, became the first player since Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in 2005 to score at least 30 points in each half of a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Curry, who scored 22 in the first quarter, marking the 27th time in his career he has scored at least 20 in a quarter, scored 31 in Sunday’s first half and 31 in the second half.
“I think that was right up there with the majority of them, with the best of them,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Just because of all the talk that’s been going around. To come out — I could see it from the very first possession. I told [Kevon Looney] early in the game, you keep screening and get in his way, he’s not passing. Something’s going on. He’s shooting the ball. It was great to see, though. He came out looking like a man on a mission. And that was right up there with one of his best performances that I’ve witnessed.”
Curry’s performance left teammates and coaches, many of whom have grown accustomed to seeing him do unbelievable things throughout his career, in awe. What made this particular game different was that it took place in front of only a hundred people or so inside Chase Center due to local health regulations that currently do not allow fans in the arena because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After Curry played only three home games last season as he recovered from a broken hand, Warriors coach Steve Kerr acknowledged how strange it was to see Curry play one of the best games of his career in a near-empty arena.
“I wanted to take him out with 30 seconds left so the 42 people in the stands could give him a standing ovation,” Kerr joked. “These games are eerie. You come into this beautiful building and we’re so used to our fans packing every seat and going crazy and it’s really sad — every game — home or road. I just feel sad for what’s happening with the pandemic and we’re blessed and lucky to play, but I look forward to the day when fans are back in our building.”
After knocking down his final 3 of the night with under a minute to play, Curry raced down to the opposite end of the floor with his arms down at his sides as if he were emulating an airplane. After checking out of the game a few moments later, Curry received hugs from his teammates down the bench and then congratulations from Blazers star Damian Lillard and several Blazers players for his efforts.
As he tried to answer questions during a postgame interview, Curry’s brother-in-law and teammate, Damion Lee, poured water on his head while Warriors owner Joe Lacob offered his own encouraging words. Curry finished his night by proudly waving at his wife, Ayesha, who sat with a small group of family and friends in the stands. As the music stopped inside the arena, Curry high-fived longtime Warriors senior vice president of communications Raymond Ridder and slowly walked back to the locker room in what was an otherwise almost silent environment.
Once he got back to the locker room, Kerr jokingly gave the game ball to rookie James Wiseman in honor of his first double-double, before the ball made its way over to Curry.
“It’s crazy,” Wiseman said of Curry’s performance. “It reminded me of 2K because I used to play with Steph all the time and I used to drop like 60. So just like actually watching it personally, that was phenomenal. He’s a legend, so just watching in person, it was great.”
The tenor of the night changed from purely celebratory to a referendum on all the criticism Curry had been dealing with in the wake of the Warriors’ slow start. Teammates and coaches have repeatedly come to his defense over the years when critics try to knock down some of his accomplishments, a trend that continued following Sunday’s performance.
“When you’re built up to a certain point, people want to tear you down,” Green said, while trying to describe why Curry continues to deal with so much scrutiny. “And build you up just to tear you down. Everybody’s always going to try and find a reason to nitpick at something Steph does. Whether it’s, ‘Oh, you haven’t won a Finals MVP,’ or ‘Oh, you haven’t carried a team.’ If I’m not mistaken, he carried the 2015 [team] pretty damn far. And so to be honest, he’s carried every team because he’s been the leader of this group since I’ve been here. So I don’t know why [the chatter] hangs around that way, but whatever. Who cares?”
For his part, Curry reiterated that he doesn’t allow the criticism to bother him, but he has never shied away from the fact that he follows what is being said about him in circles both inside and outside the league.
“I don’t get frazzled too easily and am very confident in who I am as a person,” Curry said. “As 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, and I got a lot of people in my circle that understand what makes me tick, and how much I enjoy this game, and all the different challenges you get to experience having been around 12 years-plus. … I love everything about what this game offers and the competitiveness and the fire. I never run from it.”
Green said he knew Curry was going to have a big night because he has been around him long enough to know when he looks different on the floor.
“I could just see,” Green said. “Steph has a tendency at times to kind of f— around with the basketball. There was no f—ing around. He came out and everything was shot or attack. And me, I watch a guy’s eyes. He never looked to pass once at the beginning of the game. You could just kind of feel it. He came out, he shot the 3, he started attacking the rim. I’ve been around him for so long I can kind of pick it up really quickly.”
As much as Curry tried to brush off the criticism early in the season, the joy on his face at the end of the game was apparent as the usually soft-spoken sharpshooter admitted that it was “a pretty crazy night.”
“It was just a brilliant performance,” Kerr said. “We’ve seen Steph do so many things here over the years, so many amazing nights at Oracle and now here at Chase. And it’s just a privilege to coach him, it really is. And not just because of his talent, but just because of the way he carries himself, the way he leads, and we are incredibly blessed as an organization to have Steph leading the way. What a performance tonight.”