Brian Phillips on Steph Curry (via Grantland)

You should read Brian Phillips on Stephen Curry’s improbable rise and rise and rise. If you don’t, at least read this excerpt:

It’s been a revelation. In college, part of what made his game a delight was that it looked so approachable. He wasn’t too fast to track or so high above the rim that he seemed superhuman; he was a regular-ish kid who kept sinking shots in colossal moments. Now? Maybe there are advanced stats to track this, but to me he looks like he’s playing in a different rhythm from anyone else on the floor. He still sees those tiny fissures in the defense, but now he anticipates them and knows how to make them wider. He has a whole magazine of little steps and turns and flutters now, moves that don’t require phenomenal athleticism so much as nerve and a killer sense of timing. (After the Warriors’ Game 2 playoff win over the Pelicans this week, someone described him as “Kawhi Leonard with ADD,” which I love.) He’s not exactly accessible, but somehow he’s even more himself — one foot on the mortal earth and one in the ether, a demigod hanging with Olympians.

Sometimes the contrast shows. On Thursday night, for most of Game 3 against New Orleans, Curry looked flat, almost normal; it was Anthony Davis, the Pelicans’ young power forward, a player so in the mode of the deity-ideal that he might have sprung from the forehead of basketball itself, who dominated, leading New Orleans to a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. But the Warriors kept inching back. With 11.2 seconds left, Curry pump-faked past a flying Jrue Holiday and drilled a 3 to cut the lead to two. With six seconds left and Golden State now trailing by three, Curry missed what he thought was a game-tying shot (in fact his foot was on the line). Marreese Speights got the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Curry in the left corner. Four seconds left, tenths vanishing. One of those moments when you can hear your own heartbeat. Two Pelicans, including Davis, converged on him, crashing into him and into each other; a split second before they knocked him to the ground, he got off a shot.

And you knew. Hindsight can be kind of a bully in sports, and it’s easy to remember certainty when all you really experienced was a kind of limbic panic. But this was Steph Curry in 2015, taking a last-second shot at the end of an astonishing comeback; maybe you didn’t understand what was happening, maybe you couldn’t quite believe it, but while the ball was in the air, you knew. The ball flew way, way up, and then, as Curry lay under Davis, it dropped through the net. Tie game. Overtime. For most of 48 minutes, Curry had not been Anthony Davis; then, for a couple of seconds at the end, he was Stephen Curry. That was enough. He opened overtime with another 3-pointer. Golden State won the game, 123-119, and took a 3-0 lead in the series. It was hard, afterward, to say exactly what had happened, except that Steph was playing, so it kind of made sense.

If he wins the MVP, and I think he should, then that quality, the special joy of watching him, should certainly inform the decision. James Harden has been monstrously effective and Chris Paul is a rock, but whom would you rather see? Who makes you feel something? Why shouldn’t that count, when you’re talking about players on the highest level of a spectator sport? In 20 years, no one’s heart is going to beat faster remembering how efficiently Harden got to the free throw line. You’re going to remember what it was like to see Curry pop into open space and catch the ball, the feeling of possibility that accompanied that moment. You’re going to remember watching the ball rise toward the basket. You’re going to remember how it hung at the top of its arc, and how you already knew what would happen, and how you couldn’t look away.

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