Moments after picking up a technical for scuffling with Semaj Christon and Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry did what he does best: Effortlessly drain a backbreaking three. That was the scene of the night in what was another blowout between the Thunder and Warriors. Right after a shoving match turned fake brawl—one in which Curry seemed particularly perturbed—he leaked out after a jump ball, swished a deep three as the clock expired and ran off the court in glee.
The return of an extremely petty Steph Curry was a welcome sight in a game made exciting by off-the-court drama but rendered pointless by Golden State’s overwhelming talent. Curry had plenty of reasons to be motivated for Monday’s tilt against Oklahoma City—avenging his injured teammate Kevin Durant, getting shaded by Russell Westbrook (“Who is he?”)—and he delivered the type of performance we were used to seeing during his back-to-back MVP runs.
Curry’s existed in a weird place in the NBA hierarchy this season. He’s probably still one of the top three players in the game, but he’s not the best player on his own team. Curry is the reigning unanimous MVP…but he’s not the top MVP candidate on his own team. It’s even possible Curry misses out on All-NBA if Westbrook and James Harden are selected ahead of him.
Monday night’s throttling of the Thunder was a casual reminder of who Curry is at his best: A sneakily disrespectful gunner whose very mere existence on the court turns defenses into pretzels. Curry’s lost some of the shine from his MVP campaigns this year, thanks in part to struggles on pull-up threes, Durant’s addition, and a recent cold streak in Durant’s absence. Against OKC, Curry quickly inhabited his shooting demigod persona, launching nine shots in the first quarter, pouring in 11 points and dominating his matchup with Westbrook with cold, hard efficiency. With all the plaudits Westbrook has earned this season—all three TNT commentators said they would take Russ over Steph during the broadcast—Curry has somehow flown under the radar.
There’s a certain attitude about Curry’s game that makes him intoxicating to watch (and makes it more annoying when the Warriors act sensitive between games.) His pull-up threes at the end of the second and third quarters vs. OKC are more than just a showcase of his sweet stroke, they are a blatant taunt of the opponent. Much like his ludicrous game-winner against the Thunder last season, there were moments on Monday night were Curry simply disregarded what the rest of us have been taught about basketball, picked a spot on the floor where he wanted to shoot a three, and drained that shot despite the best efforts of the Thunder defense.
Curry wasn’t even the high scorer for the Warriors on Monday, a devastating reminder of their wealth of talent. Klay Thompson scored 34, but it was Curry who owned this game, outplaying his MVP-hyped counterpart and putting the Thunder on their heels from the opening tip. While Durant is the Warriors’ best player, when Curry is hitting threes from anywhere he pleases, he not only becomes impossible to guard, he quickly deflates defenses until their will is broken. (Oh, and for all the talk of Steph’s “struggles,” he’s up to 269 threes this year.)
I wrote heading into this game that I would love to see the Warriors actually embrace their status as villains. Steph lived up to the part Monday night, toying with the Thunder, who aren’t equipped to handle even a Durant-less version of the Dubs. If there’s one silver lining of the Durant injury, it’s Curry fully re-emerging as someone who can shoot your team out of a game in a two-minute stretch while barely crossing halfcourt.
There aren’t really any conclusions to be drawn from Thunder-Warriors, a rivalry in animosity only. But if Monday night’s petty, slightly pissed version of Steph Curry is here to stay (even when Durant comes back), I’m glad that matchup has finally given us something.