There’s a different vibe around the Golden State Warriors this season than in the past two.
The two-time defending champions remain as dominant as ever, but they’re playing with the sort of looseness and fun-loving attitude that made them not just entertaining, but likable before their heel turn when Kevin Durant joined an already-established juggernaut in the summer of 2016.
Expectations are still sky-high as well, but the Warriors don’t look like a team burdened with any pressure, rather one that is completely comfortable in its own skin.
That wasn’t the case the previous two years when Golden State felt the need to lean in to their villainy as they adjusted to life with Durant and slogged through the schedule before their real season started in the playoffs. The results were still there – 125 regular-season wins and two championships – but some of the joy that was in abundance in 2014-15 and 2015-16 appeared to be missing.
That hasn’t been the case at all in the early part of this season.
The Warriors have only gotten through eight games, but they’ve shown almost no signs of mental or physical fatigue from coming off another long title run.
Not only are they winning (7-1), they’re doing it in style.
On Tuesday, Klay Thompson put on a show to break teammate Stephen Curry’s NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game, splashing 14 en route to 52 points in Golden State’s 149-124 demolition of the Chicago Bulls.
The Warriors shooting guard didn’t even see the floor in the fourth quarter with the result in hand as he did all of his damage in just 27 minutes of action.
It was reminiscent of the night Thompson poured in 60 points in 29 minutes on the Indiana Pacers back in December 2016.
No other player in NBA history has ever scored 50-plus points in 30 minutes or fewer. Thompson has done it twice now.
His explosion was just a continuation of the fun Golden State have been having of late, coming on the heels of Curry and Kevin Durant having their own moment in the spotlight.
It was Curry who kicked things off by draining 11 3-pointers for 51 points in three quarters against the Washington Wizards on October 25.
Durant then followed that up by scoring 41 points against the New York Knicks, including 25 in the fourth quarter, in the very next game.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Golden State are the 50th team in NBA history to have three different 40-point scorers in a season, but they’ve done it quicker than anyone (eight games) and two of those performances featured 50-point efforts that came in just three quarters of play.
It speaks to how awe-inspiring and captivating the Warriors can be when even one of their stars is clicking on a given night.
“It feels like year five of coaching the Golden State Warriors,” Kerr said. “Seriously. This is what it’s been like. I can’t even tell you how lucky I am and how I feel every night just watching these guys and how unselfish they are. They basically take turns, they encourage each other, they want each other to do well, and we have all this talent, but the key is these guys are committed to each other, they play hard for each other, and they want each other to have success, and that’s why it works, and it’s been amazing to be along for the ride.”
That identity has never gotten away from Golden State, but it has wavered for brief moments. Right now though, it’s as strong as ever.
Stephen Curry has great shooting nights with such regularity that he only grabs headlines now when he goes supernova.
We’ve become blasé to Curry hitting six or seven 3-pointers. So what? He does it seemingly every other game.
Eleven triples? Now we’re talking. That’s exactly what Curry did on Wednesday when he lit up the Washington Wizards for 51 points while moving up to fifth on the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers list.
And he did it in only three quarters, hitting 15-of-24 from the field, including 11-of-16 from long range, as well as all 10 of his free throws before sitting out the fourth with the result in hand.
It was the sixth time in Curry’s career he’s tallied at least 50 points in a game, and the sixth time he’s splashed 11-plus shots from beyond the arc. That’s… a lot.
Games with 11+ 3-pointers:— Zachary Kram (@zachkram) October 25, 2018
Steph Curry: 6
Every other player in NBA history: 7 combined
Curry is such a marksman and so prone to catching fire that it takes a night like Wednesday at Oracle Arena for fans to truly get up and take notice. What would be considered hot-shooting games for other players are just missed opportunities for Curry to have one of his signature performances.
It’s gotten to the point where Curry is being taken for granted on a night-to-night basis because he’s set the ‘wow factor’ bar so high.
It doesn’t help that the expectations for his team are similarly lofty, thanks to the Warriors’ ridiculous star power and recent success.
That’s a major reason why Curry’s candidacy for MVP is fighting an uphill battle. He’s already won the award twice (2015 and 2016), so voter fatigue is a factor, but the fact that he plays with another MVP calibre player in Kevin Durant only cannibalises both players’ cases.
But Curry should be considered a legitimate candidate for MVP this season, regardless of who’s around him. It will take a couple qualifiers for the 30-year-old to garner serious consideration, but it’s not unfeasible to imagine him picking up the award again.
For one, Golden State need to get back to 60 wins. It’s not like they were bad last season with their 58-24 record, but as mentioned, expectations are sky high so anything fewer than sub-60 victories and the top seed in the Western Conference will feel like an underachievement.
And secondly, Curry needs to come close to reproducing his stats from two seasons ago, when he not only averaged 30.1 points, but joined the coveted 50-40-90 club by shooting 50.4 per cent from the field, 45.4 per cent from 3 and 90.8 per cent at the free throw line.
With as many mouths as there are to feed in Golden State, averaging 30 points again is highly unlikely. But if Curry can be nearly as efficient as he was in the best season of his career, he’ll be hard to ignore, so long as the team success is there.
Extrapolating a season’s worth of numbers based on five games is shortsighted, but Curry is already off to a great start, averaging 34.6 points on 55.0 per cent shooting from the field, 52.4 per cent from deep (on a ridiculous 12.6 attempts per game) and 90.9 per cent at the line. His 6.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds aren’t too shabby either.
Overcoming the malaise that has plagued the Warriors the past two regular seasons and the fatigue from playing in four straight NBA Finals won’t be easy, but with a few more nights like Wednesday, Curry will have everyone’s attention.
The defending NBA champions fell to their first defeat of a season which isn’t yet a week old, but the unbeaten Nuggets built on their promising start as contenders for the Western Conference.
Less than a week into the season, the Nuggets top the West with a perfect 3-0 record.
Denver led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but the Warriors, led by 30 points from Stephen Curry, whittled the deficit, knotting the score at 97-97 with 1:29 remaining.
Three missed free throws by the Nuggets in the final 1:18 opened the door for the Warriors, but the visitors couldn’t take advantage.
Draymond Green had a chance to tie the game when he missed one of two free throws with 10 seconds remaining and the Warriors trailed by two on their final possession.
Curry drove to the rim, drawing two defenders, and passed to Damian Jones.
As Jones rose for the shot, Hernangomez dived in to bat the ball away from behind.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team is not yet firing on all cylinders.
“We’re not where we need to be,” said Kerr, whose Warriors led by as many as 12 in the first quarter, and by two at half-time, but were out-scored 33-21 in the third period.
Kerr was pleased with the Warriors’ “competitive juice and spirit” but said their late push was doomed by sloppy play.
“We can’t expect to win every game on emotion,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to win on execution and intelligence. We’ll get there.”
A day after his impressive triple-double against Phoenix, Nikola Jokic scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and six assists for Denver.
Gary Harris added 28 points and the Nuggets forced 18 turnovers in a solid defensive effort against the prolific Warriors.
“We fought through,” Harris said. “We stuck through to the end, we played til the last buzzer.”
The Warriors weren’t the only Western power laid low on Sunday as the Los Angeles Clippers held on for a 115-112 victory over the Houston Rockets.