If you’ve somehow forgotten or written off Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, consider Wednesday’s 147-109 thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder a reminder. This was not only a resounding statement by Golden State that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the NBA, but also a full flag planting by Steph Curry. With 42 points through three quarters on ridiculous shooting splits (70/69/100), he was forced to sit out the remainder of the game via necessary rest, and possibly the mercy rule.
But through three quarters, Steph Curry reminded us why he is one of the ten best active players on the planet, and called to mind other legendary whoopings by superstars past, only stopped by a benching in the fourth quarter. These are the five greatest three-quarter performances in NBA history.
NBA Honorable Mention: Brandon Jennings
Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks, Nov. 14, 2009
When the Golden State Warriors visited the Bucks for their 2009 season opener, no one really expected anything interesting to happen. Both were at least half a decade from becoming remotely interesting teams. Someone should have told Brandon Jennings. He scored 55 points (29 in the third) in a comeback 129-125 victory, not just in his first year, in his first NBA game.
This game technically doesn’t even count, since Jennings played all four quarters, but the performance was even more ridiculous because Jennings didn’t even score through the first quarter!
5. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder, April 14, 2021
Ah, the belle of the ball, the man of the hour: Wednesday night’s drubbing of Oklahoma City was Steph Curry’s warning to the NBA: he still remains the most fear-inducing off-ball scorer in NBA history.
But compared to the other NBA names on this list, Curry’s night doesn’t boggle the mind. If he had somehow managed to break Klay’s three-pointer record in three quarters, then this would be even more incredible, but as impressive as his night was, it doesn’t match up with the notoriety of performances further down this list. His efficiency was mind-boggling, only needing twenty shots to grab 42 points, while the Warriors literally outscored OKC by 31 points when he was on the floor.
But any intelligent NBA basketball fan knows that this type of performance is not just vintage Curry, it’s highly-possible Curry. The Baby-Faced Assassin is liable to drop 50-60 on a given night when hot and unleashed, and against a young, defensively-challenged team like the Thunder, anything less than 30 might have been disappointing for Steph as he tries to will his Warriors to the postseason. All respect in the world to him of course, as this still ranks as one of the greatest three-quarter performances of all time, but there’s more where that came from.
4. Gilbert Arenas – New York Knicks at Washington Wizards, February 26, 2006
Bet you forgot Gilbert Arenas existed, didn’t you?
For a good long few years before the controversies and injuries took their toll on his legacy, Gilbert Arenas had an argument as the second best scoring guard in the NBA (we’ll see the best of that era later on). At his peak, Vince Carter was at the tail end of his prime with the Nets, Allen Iverson was similarly in decline, and Tracy McGrady was also wasting away in Houston.
If you need any proof of that, look no further than this beatdown of the New York Knicks, led by Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Yikes. Agent Zero, as he was known back then in the NBA, dropped 46 points on these lowly Knicks, shooting a mind-boggling 81% from the field and 70% from three. Keep in mind that this efficiency (his BPM was an absurd 40.3) was maintained with a usage rate of 37%, with only one turnover and only two other teammates scoring in double digits at all. Russell Westbrook would blush at having that much control over the ball.
I’m sorry, Splash Bros who?
3. James Harden – Atlanta Hawks at Houston Rockets, November 30, 2019
Now we start to get into truly ridiculous NBA waters.
For reference, any James Harden-led Rockets team is automatically in the debate for the best offensive team of all time. That all stems from their best NBA player and leader, James Harden himself. The Beard put up some truly ridiculous stat lines as a Houston Rocket, and this night was no exception. The Hawks were pretty solid offensively, as would any Trae Young-led team would be. But they couldn’t stop a nosebleed, and these were the Houston Rockets.
The final score of this particular NBA game was 158-111, and Harden was forced to sit out the fourth quarter when the lead ballooned to 50 after three. Harden’s efficiency was not as eye-popping as Arenas’ or Curry’s performances (shooting splits of 67/57/87, 5 T/Os), but he still made over half of his three pointers and dished out 8 assists.
But we’re not hear to talk about that. We’re here to talk about scoring 60 points through three quarters, with a usage rate of over 51% (and most people wonder why Harden was gassed by the playoffs each year). Even better, remember that 50 point margin mentioned above? Check this out: When Harden was on the floor, the Rockets were better than Atlanta by that exact same amount. So, in theory, if he wasn’t playing, Houston would have been in a dogfight with one of the worst teams in the NBA Eastern Conference.
Instead, it’s a clear blowout. Fear the Beard, indeed.
2. Klay Thompson – Indiana Pacers at Golden State Warriors, December 5, 2016
Want to know what’s better than scoring 60 points through three NBA quarters?
Scoring 60 points through three quarters, with only eleven dribbles. Read that again. When Klay Thompson dropped his career high, against peak-level Paul George and the so-called best defensive team in the NBA Eastern Conference, he only needed to dribble the ball 11 times.
Even more impressive is this: if you do the math, each quarter of an NBA game is 12 minutes long. Multiply that by three, and you have a timer of 36 minutes for three quarters. Thompson snagged 60 points in 29 minutes. So, by time and technicality, he only needed two-and-a-half quarters to drop his career high in points. Thompson firmly established himself as a human microwave in this 142-106 stomping of one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. Historically, that’s incredible, but there is one three-quarter performance that outranks it…
NBA Best: 1. Kobe Bryant
Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers, Dec. 20, 2005
Time for some context: Shaquille O’Neal had just left a little over a year ago, Kobe was left with Lamar Odom as his wingman, and the Lakers were facing a Dallas Mavericks team that would go on to the NBA Finals later that season. The game was actually closer than a lot of these past performances (90-112 loss for Dallas).
But if you look back at this season from the late Kobe Bryant, you’ll remember this as the Kobe that scored 35 points per game for the season. That means that for an average night, he would go out and get what most players might consider a career high.
Not only did he grab the highest point total out of the players on this list (62 points) and do it on a usage rate of nearly 60%. That wouldn’t have been enough for the legend of the Black Mamba. His placement as the greatest three-quarter performance in NBA history is predicated on one thing:
Through three quarters, Kobe Bryant outscored an entire NBA team.
That cold night in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant (62) outscored the (Dirk Nowitzki-led!) Dallas Mavericks (61) through all three quarters that he was in the game.
Mic drop, Mamba out.