On Monday, the Brooklyn Nets returned home for their first game at the Barclays Center in almost a month. "The boys are back in town," the team's public address announcer David Diamante declared before the start of the quarter. The crowd responded, as they typically do, with a tepid cheer. The home team was leading the visiting Golden State Warriors by six points, but the crowd had come to see a show, and on this night, Stephen Curry was shooting 2-for-7 from the field. His backcourt mate Klay Thompson was 3-for-13. Somehow, after three quarters, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli had 28 points. The Splash Brothers: 15 points.
In a season where the Warriors have surpassed everyone's expectations and sit comfortably in top spot in the Western Conference, they've become one of the dominant storylines in the league. With success comes accolades, and having the best record in an ultra competitive conference means first year head coach Steve Kerr is a leading candidate for Coach of the Year, and Curry the choice among many people as the Most Valuable Player. But more importantly, the Warriors have become appointment viewing.
If you don't plan your life around their games, you just might miss Thompson setting an NBA record with 37 points in a single quarter against the Sacramento Kings. Or watch Curry score 51 points against the Mavericks at home to win a game in which they trailed by 17 after the first quarter. On Sunday, the Warriors fell behind in Boston by 26 points. You wouldn't know it by the final result: a 106-101 victory behind 37 points on 14-for-22 shooting from Curry. On the season, Curry is averaging 23.9 points, 7.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He's shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from three and 90.7 percent from the free throw line. Somehow, his three-point percentage is the lowest of his career.
With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Nets had worked their lead to 10 points. Afterwards, a reporter asked Kerr if he thought about lifting the starters and waving the white flag at that point. After all, it was the end of a six-game road trip for the Warriors, and their fourth game in five nights. Kerr, who says he doesn't mind losing a game or two down the stretch if it means his players are getting the appropriate rest before the playoffs begin, smiled at the suggestion, pointing out they were just a few possessions away from being back in the game. So what was the strategy coming out of a timeout down by 10? Put the ball in Curry's hands and take your chances with him shooting.
"That's generally my philosophy," Kerr quipped. "I trust Steph, because he's going to make hard shots. You give him plenty of leeway. That's the way the hierarchy works. I trust them to take good shots. Of course, what's a good shot for them might be a little different than for other people. But I trust [his] judgment. If [Steph and Klay] are rolling, they can come down and launch. If not, then we have to be smart enough to get the ball moving, set some screens and get into our flow."
Out of a timeout, Curry made a three-pointer from the corner. The crowd could sense and anticipate a potential run. The lead was down to seven. After Jarrett Jack responded with a jumper on the other end, Curry came down and made another three. Six points. There was now a buzz at Barclays. The fans had come to see the best showman in the league perform. He didn't for three quarters, but Curry was making up for lost time now. On the next Nets possession, Draymond Green blocked a Thaddeus Young jumper in the paint, Thompson recovered the ball, and pushed as the Warriors leaked out on a fast break. All around the arena now, everywhere was standing up. Warriors fans -- most of them in Curry jerseys -- behind Golden State's bench stood up, almost in unison, most of them pulling out their phones in anticipation of recording the moment that was to come. Thompson found Curry for another three. Splash. Three point game. Timeout, Brooklyn. At this point, everyone in the arena was roaring, sent into an absolutely frenzy.
"I kind of forgot where I was for a second to be honest with you," Curry said after the game. "It was wild in there."
The Warriors would tie the game with just over a minute left, only to watch Jack hit a jumper to break the tie with 1.1 seconds left. On the ensuing play coming out of a timeout, Curry got the ball but couldn't get a shot off in time was he made his way to the basket. 110-108, Nets.
The home crowd went home happy, but it was unclear whether they were celebrating a victory by their team, or satisfied they had gotten the entertainment they were expecting from the Warriors. To watch Curry and Golden State now brings back memories of the Chris Webber era Sacramento Kings, or the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. In an era where everything is merely a click away, the Warriors still demand that we watch in real time. You could catch the highlights later, but missing the chance to participate in the excitement as it happens is almost too much.
If the Warriors maintain the top spot in the West, their likeliest opponent in the first round will be the Oklahoma City Thunder. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy, we're in for one of the best first round series in recent memory.
Nothing will be easy in the postseason. The Western Conference is cruel that way. Curry knows this, but even after watching his team's comeback attempt fall short in Brooklyn, he was still positive and upbeat afterward. It was the last game of a long road trip. On Thursday night against the Bucks, they began a stretch of 10 games in 12 at Oracle Arena with a 102-93 victory (Curry had 19 points and went 6-13 from three-point range). They're the number one seed prepping for what they hope to be a run to the Finals. And their starting backcourt is comprised of arguably the two most dangerous heat check guys in the league.
Championship or not, the Warriors will be premium entertainment from here on out. Catch them while you can.