It’s been two months since Warriors guard Stephen Curry erupted for 62 points in a win against the Blazers. It was a rebirth, of sorts, or perhaps just a reintroduction, for Curry, with many NBA observers doubting his ability to lead a team without his splash bro, Klay Thompson.
Adding some spice to that contest was the fact that Portland, led by its own dynamic point guard, Damian Lillard, had just beaten the Warriors soundly the game before. Plus, and this is a big one, Lillard was one of those NBA observers that figured that Curry would have trouble adjusting to life without a fellow superstar on the perimeter.
Curry mastered that challenge fairly quickly, and is in the conversation for NBA MVP thus far, as is Lillard.
But all this time later, the personal aspect between two star point guards with similar stats — and one big on-court attribute in common — has cooled down just a taste. It will be a team-first evening Wednesday night as Golden State plays Portland for the last time in the regular season, and each squad is fighting for playoff positioning and going for its 20th win of the campaign.
Still, it seems the rivalry, if you can call it that, between Curry and Lillard hasn’t stopped growing. I think it’s more of a conversation between fans as opposed to a rivalry, but regardless, Lillard’s game has demanded the two be compared more than they ever have been, despite Curry’s overwhelming success in the NBA Playoffs and Finals, especially when compared to Lillard.
That’s because Lillard has become a master at a skill that Curry started — extra-long-distance 3-point shots. He takes and makes the most in the NBA. That used to be Curry’s territory.
Plus, when Lillard predictably and smartly uses his 3-point prowess to trick his defender and go around him to the basket, he often arrives at the hoop with mean intentions, using his supreme athleticism to pull off moves Curry could only dream of.
Of course, Curry is magnificent around the bucket, too, but he lacks the ability to throw down vicious dunks as Lillard often does. That alone will win the hearts of many fans.
Their averages this season are too similar to not induce discussion all by themselves. Curry tallies 29.5 points a game on 47.8 percent shooting (41.3 percent from 3), 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Lillard numbers are 29.6 points a contest on 44.5 percent shooting (38 percent from 3), 8.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds.
I say that Lillard often appears to be the more impressive player. He looks stronger, more athletic and also has a swag to his game that will win many fans. But Curry broke the NBA. Lillard is simply living in his world and thriving.
Curry’s brilliance can continue without Thompson because of his unique, league-breaking style on the court. He can play with the ball in his hands and put the defense in a blender, or he can play off the ball and terrorize the defense in the style of NBA great Reggie Miller, coming off screens and shooting quickly and accurately. And his movement off the ball in general, mostly relocating for a 3-pointer after he passes the ball, is deadly.
It’s rare to see Lillard to any of that. Plus, Curry has the ultimate superior weapon — his 3-point shooting percentage has effectively never been below 40 percent, something Lillard has only accomplished once. That accuracy and his ability to shoot at a millisecond’s notice give Curry the licence to do nearly anything he wants on an NBA court.
So while Lillard might have some skills that are superior to Curry, Curry is by far the more unique player of the two, can shoot better and causes the most havoc on the floor. But Lillard’s physical gifts make it a close conversation.
What do you think? Has Lillard caught up to Curry? Or can Steph still point to his three NBA titles and dismiss Dame as an afterthought? Let me know in the comments and have fun watching these two guards lead their teams on national TV Wednesday night, when Curry’s 62-point performance will likely be fresh on the minds of Curry and Lillard, no matter now important this contest is for each team.
(Photo credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)