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Well, leave it to Stephen Curry to siphon away all suspense surrounding Friday’s drop of our Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
By the end of the third quarter of Golden State’s 117-99 beatdown of Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, you could decisively name Curry the victor over Kevin Durant in Tuesday’s duel between the top two players of this Kia Race to the MVP Ladder matchup.
“He’s a master at what he does,” Durant said. “I’ve been saying that since he came into the league; just a crafty player that can pretty much do anything off the ball, that can cut to the rim, shoot floaters, shoot 3s, and then he can handle the basketball too, and get down to his spot. That’s what you get every night [from] a player like that playing at an MVP, Hall of Fame level. You’ve got to respect it.”
The crowd at the Barclays Center certainly did.
After Curry ripped the Nets for 37 points on a blistering 12-of-19 from the floor, including 9-of-14 from deep to go with five assists, two steals and a block, Warriors coach Steve Kerr called for a timeout with 5:19 remaining so that his 33-year-old point guard could check out of the game, while former MVPs Durant and James Harden watched stoically from the bench. On the way out, Curry decided to bless the 17,732 in attendance with a parting gift. So, he flung up one last shot from just beyond the Nets center court logo.
Just throwing it up for fun 🤯
Everything was working for Steph in the @warriors win! pic.twitter.com/ddUIpXJhcK
— NBA (@NBA) November 17, 2021
The shot didn’t count. What did, though, was Curry’s heavy impact in Golden State’s most significant test to date on the road against the now 10-5 Nets — a team widely considered a title contender at the start of the season. The Warriors pulled off the victory with a two-time MVP in Curry leading the way along with a former Kia Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green wreaking havoc guarding Durant, who shot 0-of-8 (including 0-of-4 from deep) in the decisive third quarter, in addition to committing two turnovers for the game.
Golden State outscored Brooklyn 35-18 during a third quarter in which Curry played just five minutes, after picking up his fourth foul with seven minutes left in the frame.
“It’s not the playoffs, but it’s an intensity that you know you have to show up if you’re gonna beat a team like that,” Curry said. “So, you definitely lock in, get focused, and you thrive off that competitive atmosphere knowing that there’s a lot of talent on the floor.”
Both Curry and Durant did that in a back-and-forth first quarter in which Brooklyn led 34-31. Curry knocked down his 2,900th 3-pointer on his first attempt of the game, and defensively stripped the ball twice from Nets ballhandlers on the way to finishing the quarter 4 of 5 from downtown for 12 points. Durant easily matched Curry’s production with a 12-point opening quarter of his own, connecting on 4-of-7 from the field and 2-of-2 from 3-point range.
But as defensive intensity on the floor increased, the scoring output between the MVP candidates grinded to a crawl in the second quarter. Both shot 2-of-4 with a Curry 3-pointer making the difference in him finishing the frame with seven points, compared to Durant’s four.
Andrew Wiggins would drill a 3-pointer at the buzzer before halftime over Durant to give Golden State a 63-58 lead as the teams headed back to their respective locker rooms.
The floodgates almost immediately opened to start the second half, thanks to the Warriors embarking on an 8-0 run to go up 71-58.
The Warriors led by 13 when Curry left the game with 7:00 left in the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. By the 2:49 mark of the quarter, Golden State’s lead had ballooned to 21 points, after Jordan Poole slammed home a dunk off a Gary Payton II assist. Wiggins and Poole contributed 19 and 17 points, respectively, while Green added 11 more to go with a game-high eight assists and a block.
Green’s most significant contribution came on the defensive end guarding Durant, who entered Tuesday averaging 32 points on 62% from the floor and 52% from 3-point range over his last five games.
defense to offense realllll quick
📺 @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/vcrEdprm1I
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) November 17, 2021
“I thought I was pretty decent,” Green said. “Just trying to get some good contests. [With] Kevin, every shot he takes is open. He just rises up over everybody and he sees over the top. So, I was just trying to make him take tough shots. I was able to come up with a few stops there in the third quarter. I wanted that challenge. No. 1, that’s my brother. So, it’s always fun. But you always want the challenge of playing against the best, trying to guard the best.”
Green accomplished that mission nearly flawlessly.
As the Warriors rolled to their eighth win in their last nine outings, it’s important to note — especially after Tuesday’s showing — that they are now plus-124 this season over a total of 14 third quarters. Golden State is also now 6-2 against teams with records better than .500.
On the glass, Golden State outworked Brooklyn 53-38 with Curry tying the game-high in rebounds with seven.
Curry shot 7-of-22 in a 106-102 loss at Charlotte on Sunday in addition to committing three turnovers, only to shake off that rough night with yet another vintage performance that left little doubt as to who now leads the MVP race.
We’ve seen it so many times, which is likely why Kerr never hesitated when asked what makes Golden State so difficult to defend.
“Steph Curry,” he said. “I’m not kidding. There’s never been anybody like him. He’s an offense just by himself because he’s gonna pull defenders with him 35 feet from the hoop and then it’s a matter of putting smart people around him like Draymond, like Andre [Iguodala] and many others who are gonna take that defensive attention that Steph gets and then play-make behind the play when Steph gets the ball out of his hands.”
Steve Kerr asked what makes his offensive system difficult to defend: “Steph Curry.” pic.twitter.com/E0S3o7PiXg
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 17, 2021
“The fact that Steph can be dominant on and off the ball is what makes him unique,” Kerr continued. “There’s nobody in the league now or, as far as I’m concerned, ever who had that combination of on-ball skill and pick-and-roll dominance, but the off-ball game of Reggie Miller, Rip Hamilton, or somebody flying off screens. That combination has never been seen.”
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