TORONTO – An hour before the game Saturday, former Niagara coach Jack Armstrong left a burgundy folder in Stephen Curry’s locker stall with some very valuable information. Curry is a scratch golfer, you see, and had asked Armstrong for details about the Porter Cup with the idea he might play.
Armstrong has known Curry since he was a boy. His father, Del Curry, played his final three NBA seasons with the Raptors starting in 1999. Armstrong was hired a year earlier as their television analyst. Steph was an 11-year-old dribbling machine and already showing glimpses of what was to come.
Still, nobody could have envisioned Curry becoming the player you see today. The reigning NBA most valuable player is the biggest star in sports. A year after leading the Warriors to their first title in 40 years, he’s a better player on a better team. It didn’t seem possible after reaching such a high level last season.
But it’s true.
The Warriors continued rolling Saturday with a 112-109 victory over the Raptors, pushing Golden State to 21-0 and breaking the record for consecutive victories to start a season in the four major sports. In case you forgot, it’s one more win than the St. Louis Maroons had in 1884 to open the Union Association baseball season.
“Everybody individually is better as a player,” Curry said. “And it’s showing. The 21-game win streak is surreal because it doesn’t make sense when you say it out loud. But out there on the floor, we’re very confident. We’re very comfortable and expect to win every night.”
Curry, once again, was fabulous. He scored 44 points, giving him an NBA-leading seven games in which he has scored 40 or more. Klay Thompson added 26. Curry came through in the fourth quarter with two three-pointers after Toronto took a 98-95 lead and started believing an upset was in the making.
He made nine threes in all, none more important than the stop and pop with 2½ minutes left that gave the Warriors the lead for good. He made six straight free throws in the final minute and was the best player on the floor. Curry was in familiar territory and made it seem like a home game.
“I got some shots up on those rims for three years every game night,” Curry said. “It was a lot of fun for me and my brother. I enjoy coming back here and playing. It’s a familiar setting. You still see a lot of people in the organization that were here back in the day. It’s a lot of fun.”
Golden State is three games into a seven-game road trip. At some point, they’re bound to have a poor night shooting the ball and get clipped, right? They shouldn’t have any problem with lowly Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon. It gets tougher after they travel to Indiana and Boston the next two games.
If you ask anybody connected to the Warriors, however, it sounds like they’re just getting warmed up. They’re desperate for another championship. They could break the record for most wins in a season, 72, set by the 1995-96 Bulls team led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Steve Kerr also was a member of that team.
Back problems have prohibited Kerr from coaching the Warriors this season after he guided then to a title. Assistant coach Luke Walton has had the luxury of coaching a confident and determined team that has shown no signs of complacency. They have embraced the circus surrounding the team and the pressure of the streak.
“It’s crazy, but our guys are fine with it,” Walton said. “People talk about the pressure of getting worse the longer the streak goes, but our guys love pressure. They play better the bigger the stage. They like that entertaining style of basketball. They’re handling that as well as anybody could.”
A representative from the Raptors said there were more media requests for the game Saturday than any game in recent memory. ESPN basketball guru Marc Stein, who incidentally lived in Olean as a kid and remains a diehard Sabres fan, is traveling with the Warriors until they lose, assuming they lose.
Kyle Lowry was terrific in defeat, allowing Toronto to keep the game interesting going into the final five minutes. He had a career-high 41 points, but Curry was better. He scored 14 points in the first six minutes and had 21 points at the half. Sometimes it’s early and other times it’s late.
At some point in the game, he takes over.
“Every single game,” Leandro Barbosa said. “Every single game it’s something different. He’s just automatic.
“It surprises us because we’re around him. It’s just fun watching him play. It doesn’t matter if we’re on the floor or on the bench. It’s a fun time to be around him.”
Curry is leading the league in scoring at 32 points per game after averaging 23.8 points last season while taking only 3.4 more attempts. The scoring jump is the highest in history for a player coming off an MVP season. He’s the most electrifying player in the game and the best pure shooter and ball-handler in history.
“He makes it look so easy,” Thompson said. “It seems like he gets 40 points quietly now. The times I’ve gotten 40 in the NBA, I was happy with it. He just seems to not be content. His skill level and ability to shoot is unparalleled. He’s truly a special talent that you might never see again.”
The beauty in the Warriors is that they want the attention on Curry because it relieves pressure from everybody else. Golden State is anything but a one-man show. They play great team defense. They were averaging nearly 30 assists per game before Saturday because they’re willing to make the extra pass.
At their best, they’re not just a great basketball team. When all players are clicking, when five minds become one, when they’re unselfish on offense and relentless on defense, they turn into a symphony. They’re an art form. No player expresses himself on the court quite like Curry does.
For him to be interested in the Porter Cup actually makes sense. He has mastered one sport and wouldn’t mind competing in another. He would need to qualify or receive a special exemption to play in one of golf’s major tournaments for amateurs, but something tells me there would be room for him for one simple reason:
He’s worth watching whether he playing basketball, checkers … or golf.