NBA

Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic combine for 99 points in a back-and-forth duel for the ages

The only letdown about Saturday night’s Warriors-Mavericks showdown was there weren’t any fans in the arena to witness what has to be one of the great duels in recent NBA history. Stephen Curry finished with 57 points, but it wasn’t enough as Luka Doncic answered with a career-high 42 in leading the Mavericks to a 134-132 victory over the Warriors. 

Yes, your quick math is correct.

Curry and Doncic fell one point shy of combining for 100. 

There will be a lot of digs about the defense in this game, but it wasn’t as bad as a 266-point total would typically indicate. The Mavericks’ bigs weren’t consistently aggressive enough in pushing up on Curry off pick-and-roll, and the undersized Warriors were in scramble mode all night, thus leaving Dallas too many open looks off basic ball movement. But in the end this was just an electric display of shotmaking, particularly on the part of Curry, who finished 11 of 19 from deep in notching his 16th career game with at least 10 made 3-pointers. No other player in history has more than five such games, per ESPN Stats and Info

“Sublime,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry’s performance. “It was ridiculous the shots he was hitting. The degree of difficulty, the ease with which he made them. He’s never played better. We’re talking about a two-time MVP. I’ve never seen him like this. He’s always obviously been an incredible shooter, but he looks stronger to me, just getting by people, fending them off on drives to the rim, finishing. And of course the shotmaking. It’s almost unfathomable what he’s doing out there.”

Think about that statement from Kerr, a man who has watched from the sideline as Curry has racked up three championships and two MVPs, who has seen him make an NBA-record 402 3-pointers at a 45-percent clip in 2015-16, who barely one month ago watched Curry hang 62 points on the Blazers. Kerr has seen Curry do things that would seemingly defy human capability more times than he can probably count, and he’s saying this is the best he’s ever seen him look. That is an astonishing bit of perspective.

And he just might be right. The shots Curry was making look routine — as he, you know, routinely does — against Dallas were nuts. Just look at this nonsense:

What stands out most, other than the actual shots, is the aggression with which Curry is hunting them. He’s been in that mode for a while now, as opposed to early in the season when he was slow-playing things, relatively speaking, trying to allow for the new Warriors to find their footing before he hit the turbo button. 

Over his last 10 games, Curry, who is up to 42.5 percent from three for the season, is hitting 50 percent of triples (58 for 116). Over his last eight games, he’s hitting 52 percent (49 for 94). When you think about the way he’s being guarded, two and three bodies surrounding him at just about every turn, box-and-ones, traps, the entire defense shifting to his every move like a flower to the sun, with poor-shooting teammates suffocating his spacing and encouraging even more desperate defense on Curry, to think that he’s still splashing at these rates borders on insanity. 

Look, I just have to get this off my chest. Five weeks ago, I tweeted this:

I am the dumbest man alive. I won’t even try to explain where I was coming from when I put that blasphemous garbage out into the world. Damian Lillard is a stone-cold superstar, but Steph Curry, still, at 32 years old, is a bonafide mutant who has never been a citizen of this here planet.

As for Doncic, who is right there with Lillard and James Harden in the fight for the non-Curry best-point-guard-in-the-world throne, he needed this. The dirty secret that Doncic has never really been a good 3-point shooter is being shouted from the rooftops these days as he was hitting just 29 percent of his triples entering Saturday, when he went 7 of 12 from downtown while adding 11 assists and seven rebounds to go with his 42 points. 

You can see in some of those clips that Golden State was giving Doncic just a touch of air space, not necessarily inviting him to shoot 3-pointers, but certainly not selling out to stop him. That’s smart. Again, he was under 30 percent from three coming into the game. Play the numbers. 

But a lot of those step-backs and finishes in the lane were defended well. Doncic is just so special, and as the Mavs start to get healthy, he’s a guy who can lead them out of the doldrums and right back into the thick of the playoff race in a matter of weeks. Saturday night was a great start. Down the stretch, Doncic went toe to toe with the greatest shooter ever, registering 11 points and four assists in the fourth quarter. 

Doncic hit what appeared to be the backbreaking 3-pointer to give Dallas a seven-point lead with 43 seconds to play, but that alien named Curry wasn’t done, finishing an old-fashioned 3-point play and splashing another rainbow step-back 3 to pull the Warriors within one with 28 seconds to play — enough time to get a stop, call a timeout, and take a shot at a game-winner. 

But Doncic didn’t let the Warriors get the stop, commanding a double team and calmly delivering a pass to the corner, where Maxi Kleber hit the 3 that finally sealed it for Dallas. Footnote: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the blatantly missed call with under a minute to play that certainly played some kind of role in the outcome. 

Yes, that ball is out of bounds, off Kristaps Porzingis, and no, the officials didn’t see it. The possession continued, and a few seconds later Doncic hit the aforementioned 3-pointer to put Dallas up seven. Obviously a 3-pointer that never should’ve been attempted is a big deal in a two-point game, but we’re not going to spoil this epic duel by talking about a missed call. This was Luka’s night. It was Curry’s night. It was the fans’ night, and one can only imagine how bonkers they would’ve been going had they been in the building to witness it. 



 

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