When the Warriors faced the Rockets on Thursday in Houston, my assigned seat at Toyota Center was next to a scout from another NBA team who was, in his own way, as entertaining as the game itself.
His reactions to Stephen Curry’s performance were priceless. This scout, whose name and team won’t be mentioned here was, to put it mildly, consistently amazed.
He was cursing in low tones. Shaking his head. Whistling. Throwing out a “wow” and a “whoa” there. Resorting to “Are you (expletive) kidding me?’ It was as if this scout were observing the two-MVP go to work for the first time.
Sitting inches away, I imagined the scout reached a conclusion that I reached, oh, years ago: If the Warriors are chasing a championship and a healthy Curry is on the floor, any effort to stop them is a fool’s errand.
That’s how it has been since Curry returned to the Warriors lineup, the latest example coming Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.
Curry dominated a 121-105 destruction of the Clippers, scoring 45 points on 11-of-21 shooting, including 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. With 4:14 remaining in the third quarter he had 43 points on 17 shots while his teammates had 45 on 55.
Curry had to perform. He had to show up. He had to carry the burden. And he did.
“The whole game, other than Steph’s performance, was a pretty bad basketball game all around,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Los Angeles.
Curry was highly efficient and on target when none of his teammates could find any offense. His 45 points were more than the Warriors next four scorers combined.
Kevin Durant, who held it down while Curry was out for 11 games, was unavailable. And Klay Thompson was ice-cold, 4-of-16 from the field. Thank heavens there was Curry.
“Oh, I needed it, you saw the way I was shooting. I was short, left, right, every which way,” Thompson said. “But I stuck with it. But when you have a guy like Steph Curry who has your back, you can have a few off nights like that.”
With the Warriors going 9-2 and Durant playing at MVP level, the idea entered the minds of some around the NBA that the Warriors are so good and so deep that they could win a championship even without Curry. And maybe they can.
But is it really wise to bet that way?
The Warriors winning nine of 11 in the regular season is terrific. It’s not particularly mind-blowing, though, when only two of those opponents are appear to be locks for the postseason.
But winning 16 games in the postseason, when the stakes get higher and the opponents more difficult, is an exponentially bigger challenge.
The postseason is where teams get increasingly familiar with an opponent. It’s where shortcomings get highlighted and exploited. It’s safe to assume the Warriors without Curry would have exploitable shortcomings. If nothing else, they’d be easier to defend.
During the 11 games when Curry was out, the Warriors averaged 105.3 points per game.
In the four games since Curry rejoined the team, beginning Dec. 30, the Warriors averaging 127.8 points — and that’s with Durant missing two of the games.
Curry during those games is averaging 36 points on 58.4-percent shooting, including 53.8 percent beyond the arc. He has entered a zone few ever really experience.
“There’s no thought process,” he said. “But you know when your shot is feeling better than other nights, just play and have fun.”
No player in the league is better than Curry at covering his team’s shortcomings.
Can the Warriors win it all without him? They might believe it. They have to believe it. But they surely don’t want to try.
We doubt they can do it. And we’d bet that unnamed scout feels the same way.