After getting smoked by the Blazers for 20 threes and a 21-point scorching in the first of two games at home Friday, the Golden State Warriors evened the series in their second attempt with an energetic defensive effort and career-best 62 points from Wardell Stephen Curry Sunday night.
In an effort to cut down on teams’ travel in an age of trying to play professional sports amidst a national pandemic, the Golden State Warriors hosted the Portland Trailblazers for two games in three nights at the Chase Center in downtown San Francisco.
The Portland Trailblazers, led by perhaps the best backcourt in the NBA this year, got off to a blistering pace. CJ McCollum torched the Warriors for 16 points and a 15-point lead in the first quarter on his way to accumulating 28 total points for the game. Damian Lillard offered 34 of his own as the duo cruised to an easy victory, 123-98.
The matchup of Western Conference foes featured the return of Draymond Green after 309 days removed from competitive action, and the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year showed glimpses of what many analysts often overlook in his game.
Despite finishing with zero points and just four rebounds in 17 minutes in his first game back, Green’s basketball IQ combined with his ability to relay information on the fly and natural inclination to demand more from his teammates made an immediate impact on the Warriors on both ends of the court.
“He’s a great leader on the court, he’s a great anchor on the defensive end, and he’s a great facilitator on offense,” Oubre Jr. told reporters. “[Green] gives us somebody to communicate and call out schemes, tell us where we need to be on the floor, and somebody else to fly around out there in help.”
Rookie Center James Wiseman succumbed to an ankle injury and was forced to leave at the end of the first game, but was healthy enough to start the back half of this baseball-style series.
Two records were at stake to start the second of these two contests, with Oubre Jr. entering the game at 1-25 from 3pt to start the season, the worst stretch of form in NBA history.
Stephen Curry, on the other hand, sunk his first 80 free throws this year, before bricking one off the back-rim in the first quarter last night, just 17 shy of the all time NBA record for consecutive free throws made to begin a season.
Oubre Jr. missed his first three pointer of the game to extend to 1-for-26 on the year, but the defensive intensity for the Warriors was a far cry from two nights previous, and they found themselves leading 36-33 after the 1st quarter. As the Dubs continued to work through the kinks of their new offense, two-time MVP Stephen Curry finished the first quarter with 21, showing flashes of what was to come early.
Eric Paschall, the 24-year-old second-year small forward who got extended minutes last year due to an injured Dubs core, had some explosive plays early in the game to keep the Blazers at bay while key Warriors sat for rest.
let em know EP ⬆️— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 4, 2021
📺. @NBCSAuthentic pic.twitter.com/7WWzSqJToD
On the next two possessions, Paschall stepped back from the elbow and connected on collected jumpers over an exposed Enes Kanter.
Curry’s out-of-this-world ability to hit just about anything from anywhere causes defenders problems in the pick and roll, as they are forced with a huge dilemma: leave Steph and give him the opportunity to knock down the long ball, or leave the screener and let Steph find him for an easy two.
Curry and Wiseman execute this to perfection here:
lil' screen & slip action— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 4, 2021
📺 @NBCSAuthentic pic.twitter.com/Fw3ghHgFkH
Steph had 31 at half on 10-18 shooting and 3-7 from 3pt-land. However, despite an inspired effort on the defensive end and a strong shooting performance, the Warriors found themselves up just 66-54 at halftime.
Wiseman continued to show off his athleticism in the third quarter. The ease at which he is able to spin around his defender and explode to the rim poses a unique problem for teams that aren’t used to the Warriors employing a big man with a score-first mentality.
couple of looks from the rook— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 4, 2021
📺 @NBCSAuthentic pic.twitter.com/qOqo7oPKVP
Later in the 3rd, Oubre Jr. connected on his second 3pt field goal of the year, and continued to show everything else that he offers this new Dubs outfit. A high energy guy that brings as much on the defensive end as he does breaking out in transition, Oubre Jr. will be integral to the Warriors this season despite how his shooting progresses.
With Dame and CJ, however, the Blazers are never really out of any game, and Lillard’s back-to-back threes with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter kept the game within nine points shortly after the Warriors had pushed their fourth-quarter lead to 20.
Seemingly on cue, however, Curry came alive and took over, hitting circus shot after circus shot to ice the game, finishing with 62 points and sealing the Warriors’ third win of the season.
STEPHEN CURRY— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 4, 2021
62 POINTS pic.twitter.com/3Y8BQGI7lj
In the postgame locker room, Kerr jokingly presented Wiseman the game ball on account of his first ever NBA double-double, before rightfully handing it to Steph for his historic night.
Draymond Green told reporters that Steph’s form was evident from the jump.
“I could see it from the very first possession,” Green said. “I could just see, you know Steph has a tendency to kind of fuck around with the basketball? There was no fucking around. He came out and everything was shoot or attack. And me, I watch the guy’s eyes, he never looked to pass once.”
Steph’s teammates were full of praise in the postgame Zoom conference, with Wiseman likening Curry’s performance to watching a video game.
“It’s crazy. It reminded me of 2K because I used to play with Steph all the time and I used to drop like 60," Wiseman told the media. “So just like actually watching it personally, that was phenomenal. He’s a legend so just watching in person, it was great.”
“It just shows his hard work,” Wiseman added of Steph’s performance. “He’s a great guy off the court, but on the court he just works his tail off everyday. And I witness it and see it, and it just motivates me to work harder because I wanna be in that position as well.”
Despite being at the brunt of a lot unwarranted criticism this year and throughout his career, Steph was humbly self-assured in his postgame press conference, despite having just set a new career high in points scored and the new record for the Chase Center.
“I’m very confident in who I am, as a person and as a basketball player, and there’s not going to be anything you can say about me or to me that’s gonna affect that," Curry said after his historic night. “At the end of the day that’s how I got here, and I got a lot of people in my circle that understand what makes me tick and how much I enjoy this game.
“It’s going to be that kind of narrative from here on out, and I love it,” Curry added. “I love everything about what this game offers, the competitiveness and the fire. I’ll never run from it. I’m just excited to be in that atmosphere where I get to play at the highest level and enjoy what I do.”
The Warriors face the Sacramento Kings at home tonight at 7PM PST.
Top image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images