When most people shoot a jump shot, they pause for a split second at the top of their jump before releasing the ball. By the time Steph Curry reaches his apogee, the ball is seemingly already well on its way. His motion slightly resembles that of a shot-putter, although the shot-putter is large and ungainly, while the Golden State Warrior is slight and smooth as proverbial silk. His shot arcs higher in the air than normal, and perhaps for this reason when it falls through the basket the entry looks different, like a high diver slicing into the water on a perfect dive. Or maybe his shots are more in the basket’s center.
Style is merely the start of what distinguishes Curry’s shot. They almost all are launched behind the three-point line (but you knew that), and often are well beyond. Even when Curry shoots from midcourt or beyond at the end of a quarter, the crowd holds its collective breath. And as we have just witnessed in the final two games of the Western Conference Championships against Oklahoma City, an inordinate number of his baskets are clutch. Curry has tied each game, put his team ahead and nailed the coffin with dagger three-pointers that are demoralizing to the opponent well beyond the points added to the score.
Curry is not just a sharpshooter; if that were all he would scarcely rise above his teammate Klay Thompson, who is also a top five three-point shooter. Curry is the best dribbler in the game and a magician on short shots. When he goes to the basket he is met by taller, longer, heftier defenders, yet he regularly gets his shot away – whether it be a floater, scoop, reverse layup or high bank – and it usually goes in. His dribbling skill and quick feet also enable him to free himself for three-point shots, something almost no one else in the NBA does – catch-and-shoot being the standard procedure.
A final point in Curry’s favor is his engaging demeanor. His supreme confidence doesn’t come off as cocky, partly because of his baby-face, partly because everyone around him is so much bigger. He holds his mouthguard between his teeth, draped outside his lips; he punctuates his threes, when appropriate, with a fist clench or even watches them from a crouch; he waves to the crowd to ramp up their enthusiasm. He is the cool customer, the cool assassin.
Games 6 and 7 were the first NBA games I watched this year, and I picked two good ones. The Warriors were seemingly overmatched in the first half each time, as the Thunder controlled the rebounds and had two unstoppable forces in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But once Thompson in the first game and Curry in the second started hitting implausible threes, you could see the Thunder spirits flag and their stars try to do too much. By the end of each game they had not just lost but were defeated. Analytically, a break here or there would seem to have been all they needed to change the outcome; but you got the feeling that somehow the Warriors, and above all Curry, wouldn’t let that happen.
I have no idea how the Warriors will do against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. For the sake of the city of Cleveland, I wouldn’t feel too bad should the Cavs prevail, and I worry that their more muscular play will be a challenge. But my rooting interest will remain with the Warriors, to reward both their record-setting season and the beauty of their game. When Shaquille O’Neal played I couldn’t wait for him to retire, I so disliked the brute force he brought to the game. The basketball played by Curry and Thompson represents the opposite end of the spectrum and is thrilling to watch.