TORONTO — The other day someone asked Kobe Bryant who he had his theoretical money on in Saturday night’s three-point shooting contest.
“Is anybody here not betting on Steph Curry? That’s just a smart bet, right?” Bryant said. “How do you not bet on this guy?”
That’s fair. But when Curry’s teammate and fellow three-point contestant Klay Thompson was told Kobe’s opinion reflected the masses, he smiled and said he had other ideas.
“Everybody thinks that, huh? Oh, wow. There’s got to be a few who think Klay has a chance,” Thompson said. “I don’t mean to refer to myself in the third person, but there’s got to be a few out there. I think I’m one of them. Hopefully my brother’s another. And then probably the rest of the world thinks Steph. But that’s fine. I’ll play the underdog for a night.”
Eat it, Kobe. The underdog won, as Thompson edged Curry by four points in the final round sinking six straight shots and his full red-white-and-blue money ball rack to claim the title.
“Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight — I didn’t think he was going to miss,” Thompson said of Curry, who had a pair of terrific runs during the competition but couldn’t do enough. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”
And of course it came down to these two. Curry and Thompson are one-two in three-pointers made this season, with 245 and 161, respectively. This season Curry became the first player in NBA history to make at least 200 three’s in four straight seasons, a mark Thompson can match if he hits 39 more over the remainder of the season.
Curry put on a show in the first round, sinking 11 in a row at one point and hitting a clutch final money ball shot to put himself into second place behind Thompson, sending them both to the second round. James Harden, J.J. Redick and Devin Booker all tied for third in the opening round, which forced them into a 30-second tie-break, which Booker won. Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was naturally the fan favourite but failed to advance past the opening round.
Booker put up a strong effort in the finals, but it was always going to come down to Curry versus Thompson, with the latter walking off the contest with money ball after money ball.
“We had a gentleman’s bet,” Thompson said of any wagering between himself and his teammate. “It was just fun because we have friendly trash talk between each other, and it’s all lighthearted out there. You know, he’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen, so this is a rare occurrence that he loses. So, I’m just happy I caught him on an off night.”
The three-point contest has really become the premier event of the night, a reflection of the shot’s dramatically increasing prevalence in the game and the complete dearth of name brand talent participating in the dunk contest. The players have begun taking it very, very seriously, to the point that Lowry pulled his close friend and teammate DeMar DeRozan out to the gym at 2:45 a.m. Saturday morning to work on his approach.
Redick went so far as to mine his advanced three-point stats in order to better determine where he would place the money balls. “I want to put myself in a good position,” Redick says. “So I analyzed a shot chart the other day and figured out where my best spot should be.”
Redick has been in the NBA for 10 years and watched offences evolve from being centred around scoring in the paint to emphasizing the three-point shot like never before. While Redick has always had a strong shot from beyond the arc, he’s never been asked to shoot as many threes as he is now. In 2009-10, his first full season in the league, Redick attempted 274 threes; last season, he threw up 458.
So, there’s that, plus the NBA’s renewed commitment to loading the three-point contest with true shooters like Redick, as many of the league’s best players have shied away from the dunk contest in recent seasons.
“Four or five years ago, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on putting a loaded field of shooters in. The NBA was just inviting whoever was already coming to the All-Star break, to be honest with you,” Redick says. “And then last year I thought they put a great field together, and they’ve done that again this year. So I think part of it is the emphasis the NBA has placed on this event and part of it is the evolution of the game and the emphasis on three-point shooting.”
Redick actually called Booker as a dark horse in the competition a day earlier, saying it wouldn’t be surprising to see him advance to the finals like he did. He also had high, analytically-minded praise for Thompson and Curry.
“Those guys are both incredible shooters. I believe they’re both at the top of points per possession on catch-and-shoot plays this year,” Redick said. “So, this is right in their wheelhouse.”
Maybe Curry and Thompson are starting something, coming into their primes on the league’s best team, at a time when the game is trending directly towards their skill sets. Maybe next year the three-point contest will be the main event, and the dunk contest will be on the undercard. Either way, Thompson is just happy for the recognition; and for a rare win over his teammate.
“I think the world really appreciates the way all of us shoot the ball,” Thompson said. “They look at it as an art form, and I do too.”