Curry's 49 leads Warriors over Thunder

©The Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO — Stephen Curry has repeatedly said over the last few weeks that he wants to make this season “mean something,” to lead the Golden State Warriors to a playoff berth and perhaps even notch his second career scoring title in the process.

Entering Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Curry needed 22 points to maintain the edge over Washington’s Bradley Beal, who scored 50 points in an overtime win over the Indiana Pacers earlier in the night, for the scoring title.

Curry needed only 12 minutes to reach that marker, scoring 24 points in the first quarter of Golden State’s 136-97 win over the Thunder at Chase Center that gave the Warriors sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference — yet another step in making this season meaningful.

The victory also completed a three-game season sweep over Oklahoma City and was powered by Curry’s 49 points on 14 for 26 shooting (11 for 21 from 3-point range) in 29 minutes. By the time Curry checked out for the last time at the end of the third quarter, the Warriors led by 39 points.

It was Curry’s 10th 40-point game of the season and his seventh game with at least 10 3-pointers, and the 22nd of his career. For reference of just how incendiary Curry has been, Klay Thompson is second for the most games with 10 or more 3-pointers in a career with five.

For all of his milestones and highlights, Curry’s eye-popping scoring numbers have lifted a flawed and shorthanded Warriors team into the thick of the playoff race.

Saturday’s win moved Golden State into the more desirable No. 8 spot in the West’s play-in tournament, meaning it would get two chances to win one game and advance to the postseason as opposed to being in the nine-10 game, which would require winning the first matchup and then beating the loser of the seven-eight game. The Warriors (35-33) are a half-game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (34-33), who beat the Toronto Raptors the same night.

The Warriors and Grizzlies meet in the regular-season finale on May 16, a game that could decide the tie-breaker.

Curry’s scoring spree and Golden State’s potential matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-ever play-in tournament is the intrigue of the NBA. When the league introduced the play-in tournament for this pandemic-shortened season, it did not predict it featuring two of the league’s biggest stars in Curry and LeBron James.

But after a strong start to the season, the Lakers suffered long-term injuries to James and Anthony Davis and have slid two games back of the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 6 seed.

Meanwhile, the Warriors will meet their matchup playing the best basketball of the season. Curry and Draymond Green (15 points, 13 assists, five rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes Saturday) are playing as well as ever, and their championship credentials have created a sense of belief among an inexperienced supporting cast.

The Warriors are likely too flawed to make a deep playoff run, but success is not limited to winning the championship. After missing most of last season with a broken hand, Curry is showing that at age 33 he is still capable of leading a contender and has the Warriors on track to pick up valuable playoff experience. This is how he’s making this season mean something.