If you think all of this seems too good to be true, you are forgiven.
The buzz at Madison Square Garden was palpable and electric – like the crowd was gearing up for a concert, not a basketball game – and it could be felt even through the TV. Before the game, TNT showed clips of Stephen Curry talking with Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. It seemed like he did more talking than shooting during warmups. The pageantry was fit for a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but we’re still in the middle of December.
This is the result of a week's worth of build-up. The basketball community somehow decided that the right time to zoom in on Curry’s road to breaking Ray Allen’s all-time record for made 3s in the regular season was last week when he was 16 deep bombs away.
It would have been perfect had Curry broken it then. They were facing the Portland Trail Blazers – the team most victimized by Steph’s barrages through the years. He would have broken not just Ray Allen’s record, but also the record for most 3s in a game set by Klay Thompson. Why not? His career-high was 13 in a game, what’s three more to make history in San Francisco?
He only made six 3-pointers against Portland and three against the Philadelphia 76ers a couple of days later. Seven seemed like a reasonable number for Steph against the Indiana Pacers, but he only made five, which brought him two away from the record.
As someone who fully expected Steph to drill 16 3s in one game, I have followed all those games, assuming the record would have been broken before the Knicks game. Curry’s been electric. He’s also been reckless. Most of the time, he’s both all at once.
I would be disappointed if Curry breaking the record at the Garden wasn’t the perfect way to tie this whole experience up. MSG’s occupants have regressed back to the form where stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan made a career out of making history against the Knicks. This also added to the constant cosmic gloom for New York hoops fans, having to watch the guy – who was one pick away from becoming a Knick back in 2009 – make history on their homecourt. To their credit, no other NBA fanbase, aside from the Warriors’, would appreciate this moment more than the Knicks’.
Breaking it at the Garden also gave a chance for everyone to congregate at basketball’s Mecca to celebrate Steph. Steve Kerr, the leader in career 3-point shooting percentage, just happens to be Curry’s coach. Steph’s dad Dell, one of the first true sharpshooters in the NBA, also got a chance to fly out to New York since Curry couldn't break it in Indiana. Dell is a color commentator for the Charlotte Hornets broadcast, and the Hornets conveniently had the day off. And look at that – TNT just happened to schedule Reggie Miller as a broadcaster. Miller knew this stage all too well. He was the foremost New York villain, and he once held the record that Steph was trying to break.
Perhaps most importantly, Ray Allen was in New York. Allen had been noticeably quiet the last few days. That’s not out of character as Allen has mostly stayed out of the spotlight after retiring, save for when he released his memoir in 2018. A day before the Knicks game was the first time Allen publicly addressed Curry being on the verge of breaking his record. It might have been tough to get him a last-minute seat at MSG, but it felt right that he was there. Reggie Miller also called the game in which Ray Allen broke his record in 2011. Continuing to pass the torch this way would be a great tradition.
There's really nothing like a New York crowd. Right from the first possession, everyone in the arena had been on their feet. When Steph touches the ball, the crowd simmers with anticipation. This happens every fourth quarter in whatever venue the Warriors play a close game at. We’re barely into the first quarter, and it already felt like a tied game with a few seconds left.
The first triple dropped quickly. The Warriors ran a couple of nifty hand-off actions to start the game. In their third possession, Curry did away with all that and pulled up from deep almost as soon as he crossed half-court. Two Knicks contested the shot. It didn’t matter. Three-pointer No. 2,973 was a routine heartbreaker from Steph, but instead of the away crowd getting deflated, they erupted in cheers.
We’re one away from the big moment.
In their next possession, Curry tried to break the record, getting a good look by juking Alec Burks out of balance for a split second. He caught Draymond Green’s pass. He let the ball fly. He missed just a touch long.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, Green is the best facilitator of Curry’s 3s, assisting on nearly 500 of Curry’s long-range shots. Much of what makes the Warriors’ offense work is Curry’s otherworldly shooting. Green also deserves the credit for morphing into one of the best passing bigs ever and making sure that the Warriors’ attack flows smoothly. Curry has always been the lead guitarist; no one plays bass like Green.
The next few minutes went in the Knicks’ favor. Their defense, which had dropped from top five last year to somewhere in the middle, stood valiant. Burks drew Curry’s assignment, but all the Knicks on the floor have contributed in containing Curry. Four minutes into the game, the Knicks have staved off history like a character in the first half of a slasher film. But you know who came to watch. Michael Myers was coming.
And then the inevitable happened.
With the Warriors trailing 10-9 with 7:46 on the clock, Curry started off the set by screening for Andrew Wiggins in the paint. As Wiggins got the ball on a post-up, Curry deployed a signature series of moves, faking a screen to a cutting Kevon Looney, before sneaking out to the 3-point line. The milliseconds Burks spent deciding whether to help on Looney's cut or stay on Curry created just enough space for Curry to get open. Off-balance, with a hand in his face, Curry grabbed the throne.
"STEPHEN CURRY...THE ALL-TIME THREE-POINT KING IN THE NBA."— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2021
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau refused to call a timeout and let everyone savor the historic moment. The Warriors had to take a foul and call a timeout themselves. Coach Thibs has designed championship-level defensive systems. Apparently, he also has some world-class defensive mechanisms for coping with situations like this. Never change, Thibs.
But it’s nice that it’s generally understood around the league that you have to stop a play when something like this happens. Curry first walked to the bench, showered by deafening cheers and high-fives from his teammates. He had a moment with Steve Kerr and Draymond Green, before passing the historic ball to his dad Dell, then getting a hug from his mom Sonya. Right when the timeout buzzer would normally sound, Curry spotted Ray Allen on the other side of the court and gave Jesus Shuttlesworth a hug.
It’s not always that we get such a clear picture of a milestone event for the league. All we have from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is a photo of him holding a piece of paper. We barely have Julius Erving highlights from his prime in the ABA. Magic Johnson’s best game ever was shown on tape delay.
But Curry’s triple has a few phantom cam angles.
?phantom cam?— NBA UK (@NBAUK) December 15, 2021
The moment Steph Curry overtook Ray Allen on the all-time three pointer leaderboard! 🎥 pic.twitter.com/0RyRiDBtlg
Watch Stephen Curry become the all-time three-point leader, from inside Madison Square Garden 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/GUXxYMaABN— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2021
Slow-motion footage from the celebration.
Wardell Stephen Curry I and II. ??#PhantomCam pic.twitter.com/nbZ8rrJDhk— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2021
Plus several replay angles and social media posts – all released not even 20 minutes after Curry made the triple. It’s impossible not to remember where you were when the moment happened given how documented it is. How we remember the moment is almost as important as the moment itself.
Did the game matter? Curry ended up hitting three more 3s, including a pair of triples in the fourth quarter that sealed the win. The Warriors improved to a league-best record 23-5. The Knicks fell to 12th in the East at 12-16. There's still more than half of the season to be played. More games will be won and lost on both sides.
We won’t remember the score (105-96), but we will remember the thrill of that morning when we woke up at 8:00 AM (maybe for the third time in a week) to watch Steph Curry make history.
We should remember that Curry truly did change basketball, probably more than any other modern player ever. When he came into the league in 2009, teams were averaging 18 3-point attempts per game. Twelve seasons later, that number has shot up to 35.
Scouts counted out the 170-pound junior from Davidson. He was, at most, going to be a specialist like his dad. They questioned whether a team led by a non-traditional scoring point guard could lead a team to an NBA title until Steph and the Warriors won it all in 2015, 2017, and 2018. Steph started a generation of players who learned the game from the outside-in.
On Inside the NBA, Kenny Smith claimed that someone would take the record from Curry within the next few generations. He argued that since the league is trending towards more 3-point attempts, a player should naturally end up making more 3s in the future. That take brazenly counts out how efficiently Curry has achieved his feat.
You’ve probably seen that stat of Curry needing just 789 games to break Allen’s record when it took the former Celtic 1,300 games. But Curry also needed fewer shots – 6,892 3-point attempts to Allen’s 7,429. Curry might have broken this record sooner if he hadn’t missed so many games early in his career due to ankle injuries then almost a full season in 2019-2020 due to a broken hand. Curry has seven seasons with 250+ 3-pointers made. Trae Young, everyone’s favorite Curry comparison, hasn’t done that yet. Damian Lillard, whom many consider a comparable player to Steph, has only done that twice.
Steph looks spry for a 33-year-old. He’s well on-pace for another 300+ 3-pointer season and maybe even a third MVP award. Curry’s shooting is a generational superpower, like Jordan’s elite athleticism, LeBron’s physical gifts, or Kobe’s single-minded focus.
Maybe it’s because Curry rarely ever talks about his legacy, at least not like his contemporaries. He’s the league’s baby-faced ambassador like Magic Johnson was in the ‘80s. He doesn’t get a ton of hate, which is why he probably doesn't feel the need to argue his place in history.
Hopefully, when his career wraps up, people finally get the true scope of absurdity of what Curry has done to the game of basketball. Many will try to imitate. No one will come close to the original.