The Golden State Warriors' 112-108 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers last Wednesday night, in a game that was hyped despite being only the fifth on each team's schedule, featured characteristically across-the-board contributions. Filling in for a concussed Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli announced the evening's terms early when he stretched himself in front of a launching Blake Griffin to turn away a dunk attempt. Harrison Barnes scored 17 points, 10 of them during one fourth-quarter stretch in which he seemed not to let up from a dead sprint for five minutes. Draymond Green leaned on the taller Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and probably said some really rude shit in their ears.
But in the end, the night belonged to Stephen Curry, as have all the Warriors' nights this season. His stats thus far threaten to puree the brain: 33 points per game and 50-45-90 splits, with a 53-point effort against the chic New Orleans Pelicans thrown in for good measure. More impressive, somehow, is the fact that he has seemed to come by these superhuman numbers quite naturally.
In the last half-quarter against Los Angeles, Curry took over what had to that point been a cooperative effort. He isolated DeAndre Jordan on a switch, tied poor Jordan's ACLs together, and then stepped back for a three. He sped through a series of baseline screens to free himself for a corner catch-and-shoot, with Jordan a fatal hair late with the close-out. He twice dribbled around Green screens at the top of the key—or, to be more accurate, a couple steps behind it—and then rose and tossed in jumpers as effortlessly as if he were casting a fishing line. The last of these gave Golden State a lead they would not relinquish.
That closing stretch struck an emotional note that only Curry seems capable of reaching. It was both astonishing and wholly expected. Every piece of information the NBA provides tells us that plays like the ones Curry made that night are exceptional, nearly impossible, but everything that Curry himself shows us suggests that they are, in fact, easy. If this level of occupational brilliance is a rare treat for the viewer, it is also a kind of challenge. What do we do with a player and team that, in lieu of contending with the sport's standard challenges, just kind of smirk at them while rocketing past?
Plenty of the NBA's best players can achieve a state in which basketball seems entirely too simple; it's a thrilling thing to watch a player in this cheat-code God Mode, in large part because it is usually fleeting. Curry, these days, pretty much lives there, his perma-boyish appearance partnering with his accomplishments to make him the league's resident whiz-kid. Even after years of professional weight training, he is still slight, with a goatee that seems like it takes an entire offseason to conjure. His most sincere expression is one of wide-eyed self-astonishment. When he takes a run at the stare-and-swagger mode of celebration more common to all-world athletes, cocking his chin and furrowing his eyebrows, you have to restrain yourself to keep from trying to pat his head through your television screen.
But at the root of the boy genius thing is Curry's game, which is equal parts virtuosic and causal. Most every play he makes scans as a near-automatic reaction to defenders' actions—a big man hedges hard, so Curry flips a one-handed pass to the corner the defense has rotated away from; an opposing guard presses him, and so he crosses over and scoops in a layup. This is all made possible by the fact that he possesses tools no other player can access. He whisks the ball between and around his legs like an electron. He goes from dribbling to shooting in a quarter of a second, and with a great deal of comfort from thirty feet on in. So of course he spends whole evenings responding to missteps; his mere presence on the court sets defenses scrambling.
This is impressive, of course. And maybe you are the type of person who is inspired by all this, as well. You turn the television to the latest Golden State blowout and feel nothing but sheer admiration and the purest vicarious glee in watching these experts, Curry chief among them, realize the full potential of their expertise.
I myself am that type of person, a lot of the time. But I've noticed lately an undercurrent to my Warriors appreciation. The team sometimes seems to me less a participant in its games than a kind of living parameter, an immutable fact of the contemporary basketball world. They roll into an arena, perform their faultless routine, and leave high-fiving. They exist as if already part of a montage, summarizing themselves in real time.
Curry's last three of the night against the Clippers, an obscene pull-up from a DeAndre Jordan-sized step behind the line, was astonishing. But it was not markedly different from the one he had hit a couple minutes earlier, which was itself not all that distinct from the ones he had been hitting most of this season and last. No matter how much something amazes on its own merits, repeated enough it risks becoming rote. A big ball of fire rises above the horizon every day, and we respond to this miracle by using our hands to shield our iPhones from its glare.
I suspect I'll come to miss these Warriors, once they undergo the inevitable and diminishing changes every champion encounters at some point, a little more than I enjoy them now. I'll recognize how rare it is to have a team like this—skilled, adaptable, synaptically aligned, with a player at the helm who makes the descriptor magician read like understatement—serving as the league's constant.
For now, though, I watch the Warriors and often gasp but occasionally (and increasingly) yawn. They are undefeated, and only one game has been all that close. Curry hits shots as a matter of routine that nobody else makes in a whole season of attempts. This is the best team in basketball by a wide margin and, more to the point, by a margin that nobody has provided a credible plan for narrowing. Do with that what you will.