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Curry on Fire

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Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors lit up Madison Square Garden last week, scoring 54 points for a career high. Curry had the best shooting performance of his career and the best by any player this season.


Steph Curry was hot. How hot? Here are the numbers:

  • 54 points, most points scored in a game this season
  • 11-13 on three-point shots
  • 7-7 from the FT line
  • 23 points in the 2nd quarter
  • 6 rebounds, which led the team
  • 7 assists, which led the team
  • 48 minutes
Curry, for the first time in his career, played every second of a game that was up for grabs until the last 30 seconds. In some games, players pad their stats after the outcome is clear. Every shot Curry took mattered.

What was so special about Curry's night?

Only seven players in NBA history have ever scored more at Madison Square Garden. Wilt Chamberlain (six times!), Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Bernard King (twice), Rick Barry, Richie Guerin and Michael Jordan.

The Knicks knew Curry would be the Golden State offense going into the game. David Lee, the Warrior's second leading scorer, was suspended due to a brawl in a game in Indiana the night before.

During the game, that reality only became more evident. Curry's teammates shot 18 for 44. The Warriors' other scoring threats had awful nights. Klay Thompson was 3 for 13; Jarrett Jack 6 for 15.

Curry was undoubtedly getting the ball; it was just that no one could stop him. In the second half of the game, the Knicks often trapped and double-teamed Curry to force him to pass to his less accurate teammates. The agile seven-footer Tyson Chandler led that defensive attack. No matter. Curry dribbled around or through the the best two Knick defenders to get off his shot or shot so quickly that no one could reach him.

Steph was dropping three-point shots like layups. He only missed 2 of his 13 shots behind the three-point line giving him a 0.857 long-range shooting percentage. He shot almost twice his career three-point FG percentage.

How hot was Curry? Only 6 NBA Hall of Famers have a higher career shooting percentage than 85.7% from the free throw line!

Curry missed the record for three-pointers made in a game by one shot. Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall hold that record with 12 apiece.

But Curry's night was better. Kobe missed six shots, and Donyell missed 7. Furthermore, Kobe and Donyell each had a talented teammate who could score and did draw defensive attention. Kobe's was Shaq and Donyell Marshall's was Chris Bosh. Curry was truly a one-man band.

To see a difference between Marshall's 12-for-19, Bryant's 12-for-18, and Curry's 11-for-13 performances, assume each player could shoot with Steve Kerr's record three-point percentage of 0.454. How rare was each performance? Donyell's night had a 5.5% likelihood of occurring and Kobe's 3.8%. Curry's night had under a 0.4% chance. Curry put on a Six-Sigma show at Madison Square Garden

Did Steph have a hot hand? His neverending smile and relentless desire to take the next shot shows that he believed that he was "in the zone." And all his teammates and opponents played the game as if they thought so, too.

Interestingly, research in the field of cognitive psychology argues against every insider's sense of the experience. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell, along with Robert Vallone and Amos Tversky of Stanford, found no evidence that outcomes of previous shots during a sequence influence future performance.

Is Curry so good that he overcame the laws of probability? Perhaps for one night. Or even two. Curry was 7 for 10 from beyond the stripe the prior evening against the Pacers. On consecutive nights, Curry shot 18 for 23 from long range, a feat unlikely to be matched this millennium.

But even Curry's most intense heat fades over time. This weekend, he shot 6 for 20 on three-pointers on back-to-back night.

No matter. For one night, Curry stopped and popped like an avatar in NBA Jam with a hand so hot that nets blazed as the balls kept swishing through.

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