The Golden State Warriors shouldn't have needed more crunch-time heroics from Stephen Curry to finally put the Sacramento Kings away for good. They led by 18 points with 5:53 left in the fourth quarter on Friday, riding Curry's red-hot hand and several other eye-opening individual performances to what should've been a feel-good first win of the season. But Golden State began crumbling down the stretch, unable to exploit Sacramento trapping Curry every time he touched the ball on one end and helpless to stop De'Aaron Fox on the other.

The Dubs led 117-112 with about 50 seconds remaining when they put the ball in Andrew Wiggins' hands, guarded by Domantas Sabonis after Steve Kerr went small with Jonathan Kuminga at de facto center. Wiggins took a high ball screen from Curry, turned the corner and drove hard toward the paint, help defenders converging on him with Sabonis trailing behind. Instead of getting all the way to the rim, though, an airborne Wiggins whipped a cross-court bullet through heavy traffic back toward the arc, where Curry was patiently waiting.

Everyone in Golden 1 Center knew what was about to happen next. After all, the Kings' last real home game before Friday's was Game 7 of the first round of the 2022 playoffs, when Curry put dreams of winning their first postseason series since 2004 to bed with one of the most iconic performances of his legendary career.

Golden State held on to beat Sacramento 122-114, earning its first win of 2023-24 on the back of another superlative effort from Curry—one almost every bit as dominant as what he did to the Kings last May with both teams facing elimination.

Steph Curry's ruthlessly efficient dominance in Warriors' win over Kings

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors doing his sleep move

Curry's line seems better suited for NBA 2K than the first rematch of the regular season between newfound Northern California rivals. He scored 41 points on 14-of-19 overall, 7-of-10 from deep and 6-of-6 at the free throw line on Friday, adding four rebounds, four assists and two steals. His latest masterpiece somehow marks the eighth(!) time in his legendary career that Curry has dropped at least 40 points while shooting better than 70% from the field, a mind-blowing feat he last accomplished in March against the LA Clippers.

Those games don't need to be compared. Each stands on their own as evidence of a truly unique all-time great playing at the absolute peak of his powers, or maybe even above them. But it's safe to say Curry's never been more ruthlessly efficient than he was against the Kings. He had it going from all over the floor at Golden 1 Center, splashing jumpers of varying arcs and effective contests with ease only reserved for the best shooter ever.

Just like Game 7, Sacramento's overmatched perimeter defenders had no chance of containing him off the bounce, either—even when he was almost losing handle.

This drive and finish came immediately after the ridiculous four-point play above, upon which Mike Brown dispensed with anything resembling normal defensive coverage to run an extra defender at Curry once he put the ball on the deck, hoping to literally force him to give it up. Except Curry didn't oblige, flipping Harrison Barnes' hips with a fake step-back as Davion Mitchell approached en route to an easy finish.

Needless to say, there is nothing easy about personally thwarting a double-team 30 feet from the basket. Curry and the Dubs learned that the hard way in the fourth quarter, as even more aggressive traps left them searching hopelessly for answers with Curry prevented from producing them himself.

That's the type of issue Chris Paul's presence is supposed to erase. Maybe Golden State would've been able to do it if another keen playmaker like Draymond Green was on the floor, too. But Paul has trouble getting by dogged individual defense without a screen, and the same goes for Klay Thompson. Wiggins has the athletic juice to take advantage of a defense committing two defenders to Curry, though isn't always secure with the ball when attacking. Moses Moody lacks a degree of initial burst, too, and Kuminga is still learning what on-ball decisions count as good ones. Those weaknesses are only compounded when the Dubs play non-shooters like Kevin Looney and Gary Payton II.

The Warriors narrowly averted disaster on Friday, a reality that shouldn't be overlooked. Other teams will coax the ball from Curry's hands when he's hot, or even just as a change-up to throw Golden State's offense off-balance. Rest assured Kerr's team will be much better prepared for it going forward, just like the Dubs were when Wiggins found Curry through a thicket of defenders to seal a hard-earned victory.

Until then, the Warriors and their fans can bask in the afterglow of another singular performance from one of the greatest players ever. There was a notion coming into this season that it could be the one Curry finally takes a real step back. He's 35, after all. Based on his latest instant-classic, though, any expectation of Curry's decline coming in 2023-24 has already been proven premature.