OAKLAND, Calif. — At the end of the Golden State Warriors’ practice Monday, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lined up at opposite baskets and engaged in a shooting contest.
The game was simple: first person to make seven shots from each of the five spots beyond the 3-point line wins. Or, first person to miss two shots in a row loses. Both had two teammates — one to rebound, and another to make a clean pass.
Each won once. No tiebreaker needed.
The outcome seemed fitting considering Golden State’s backcourt tandem has shot its way to the top together this season. The pair have combined to make 444 3-pointers, surpassing the 435 Orlando’s Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson hit in the 1995-96 season for the most by any duo in league history.
As for who usually wins when Curry and Thompson face each other?
“It’s pretty even,” Thompson said. “It just depends on the day, whoever got better sleep that night.”
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Curry has made 247 shots from beyond the arc and Thompson has hit 197. Both already have eclipsed Dorell Wright’s franchise record of 194, set two years ago while shooting 37.6 percent.
Even more impressive might be the rate the current Warriors tandem has shot.
Curry has hit 45.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range, second only to Atlanta’s Kyle Korver (45.5 percent) among players with at least 150 attempts. Thompson is just shy of 40 percent.
Scott shot 42.5 percent when he set an NBA record with 267 3-pointers made, but was surpassed when Ray Allen hit 269 for Seattle in 2005-06 — a mark Curry could conceivably top with five games remaining. Anderson shot 39 percent in that 1995-96 season, when the Shaquille O’Neal-led Magic lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals.
“That’s pretty cool of an accomplishment, to sustain that kind of shooting all year,” Curry said. “And for two guys to do it in the same season, it’s pretty cool. I know Klay would’ve broken some records by himself.”
The biggest challenge for the Warriors has been maximizing the duo’s abilities.
With both shooting at a historic pace, opponents have started to chase them off the perimeter. That has forced Warriors coach Mark Jackson to often go to a three-guard lineup at the end of games, with Jarrett Jack at point guard and Curry and Thompson on the wings.
Some nights that lineup has been effective. Others, not.
Sunday night’s 97-90 loss to the Utah Jazz was the latter, when the Warriors wasted a chance to seal the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2007 and second in 19 years. Curry, in particular, took just five shots in the fourth quarter after scoring 17 points in the first half. He finished with 22 points.
Curry admits there’s “not as much creativity” to find seams when he’s running through screens off the ball. At the same time, he recognizes defenses will trap him on pick-and-rolls late to get the ball out of his hands — the reason Jackson often utilizes him as a shooting guard during key stretches.
If there’s a flaw in the Warriors’ way, it might be that Curry and Thompson defer too much.
“I don’t recall many bad shots by those guys,” Jackson said. “They’re very patient, and they take good, quality looks. I think they’re unselfish. And with many players with that mentality, you’re unselfish to a fault.”
Curry’s confounding pass-first mentality, at times, has been especially perplexing.
The diminutive point guard who dazzled at Davidson has shown what he could do on the NBA’s biggest stage, scoring a career-high 54 points in a 109-105 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27. He shot 11 of 13 from beyond the arc that game, including his favorite of the season — dribbling behind the back against Raymond Felton, using a screen and shooting over Tyson Chandler while getting knocked to the floor for his ninth 3-pointer.
“Any time he stops on a dime in transition after speed dribbling, crossover, or does anything, you’re sitting there like, ‘Wow,’” Jackson said. “And not that it goes in. But if I made that shot, I’d be standing their watching it, making sure it looked good, felt good, and then I would act like I knew it was good.
“If he’s letting it go after that work, his body language is saying it’s money. It’s a thing of beauty watching. We are truly witnessing greatness from an all-time great shooter.”
Curry’s excellence also has pushed Thompson, and vice versa.
Thompson played most of his rookie year without Curry, who was sidelined with repeated problems on his now twice surgically repaired right ankle. Now they often hold shooting competitions, including making jumpers on one side of the free throw line and a corner 3-pointer — each make counts as one point and each miss as minus-two. First person to 10 wins.
“I’ve always been the best shooter on my team, from middle school on, I would say,” Thompson said. “To have a guy on my team who is just as good if not better than me, it’s really challenging, and I’m competitive.”
With both about to surpass 200 3-pointers this season, it’s also hard not to imagine what might be possible the longer they play together.
“Maybe one day,” Thompson said, “we’ll each get 250.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP