Stephen Curry beats Sabrina Ionescu by 3 in All-Star shootout

INDIANAPOLIS — Stephen Curry might be considered the greatest shooter in basketball history. But Sabrina Ionescu certainly made him prove it Saturday night as part of NBA All-Star Weekend.

The Golden State Warriors guard edged the New York Liberty guard 29-26 in an NBA vs. WNBA 3-point contest — the first of its kind.

Ionescu opened by making seven straight shots before finishing with a total score of 26 — which happened to tie the highest score by any NBA player in the 3-point contest held earlier Saturday night and won by the Milwaukee BucksDamian Lillard.

Curry had perfect racks from both the left and right wings and went into the final rack — his money-ball rack, with each make worth two points — with 21 points. He missed his first shot but then made the last four to close with 29 points and the dramatic victory.

“I saw the first rack … and I was having flashbacks to watching her this [past] summer,” Curry said afterward. “It added a lot of pressure, for sure, and I just wanted to get off to a good start, settle in and thankfully I made enough to get over the top.

“But that was perfect. Great entertainment, great shooting — both sides — and an awesome 70 seconds for both of us.”

Immediately after the competition, Ionescu, 26, was angling for a rematch with Curry, 35.

“Obviously Steph won for a reason, and I’m going to have to try to beat him next time,” Ionescu said.

TNT’s Ernie Johnson introduced the showdown from center court, dubbed “Stephen vs. Sabrina,” as if it was a marquee boxing match — complete with a heavyweight belt presented to the winner. The concept for the event evoked memories of 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, which King won in three sets.

Yet, while Riggs was infamous for dismissing King’s — and other women tennis players’ — abilities, Curry was a gracious opponent.

“Me and Sabrina talked about how cool of an opportunity it is to do something that’s never been done before in our game,” Curry said earlier Saturday. “And for her to have a presence on this stage is going to do a lot to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls that want to compete and see themselves in either one of us.”

Ionescu reciprocated the sentiment.

“Being able to have this crossover and understanding the respect that I’ve been able to receive from a lot of the NBA guys — just knowing that Steph wanted to do this as well, in terms of just respecting another shooter — I think it’s going to show a lot of kids out there, a lot of people that might not have believed or even watched women’s sports, that we’re able to go out there and put on a show.”

The idea was hatched by Curry and Ionescu after she caught fire in the 3-point contest at WNBA All-Star Weekend in July, scoring 37 out of a possible 40 points — including a streak of 20 straight triples. Curry complimented her showing on social media, and the Liberty star returned the volley by suggesting the shootout with the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers and two-time All-Star 3-point contest champ.

“So much credit to them,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday night. “I wish I could say that the league in its lab came up with this idea. This was about Steph and Sabrina, two friends who said, ‘Won’t this be fantastic?’ I know that Steph cares a lot about the women’s game.”

As much as Curry might care, perhaps the greatest show of respect he could pay was respecting Ionescu as a competitor. So much so that he scouted her practice session Friday and tried to throw her off her game.

“He was out there booing me,” Ionescu said. “Trying to get in my head.”

While Curry wouldn’t divulge the exact transcript from his jeers, he admitted the intent.

“Trying to apply some pressure, for sure,” he said.

Curry should have known Ionescu isn’t the type to be rattled. He met the Bay Area native before she became well-known at the University of Oregon as the National Player of the Year and the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles.

“You see a different demeanor and a different kind of killer instinct and a focus,” Curry said. “I mean, the skill is one thing, but the mentality is a totally different thing that you kind of can’t teach, and she has demonstrated that every step of the way.

“I knew that however much the buildup was, no stage would be too bright for her.”

Saturday’s stage was particularly different than what Ionescu is used to hooping on. The shootout was played on a digital LED court set on top of a football field at Lucas Oil Stadium, though the dimensions were NBA regulation.

The NBA 3-point line is 23 feet, 9 inches from the basket. The WNBA stripe is 22 feet, 1.75 inches away. Ionescu said she chose to compete from the farther distance “to just continue to push boundaries and equal the playing field.” Ionescu used the slightly smaller WNBA ball instead of the NBA one Curry used.

Aside from the championship belt that Curry took home — which featured two goats affixed on gold panels on either side of the centerpiece — both Curry and Ionescu received $25,000 donations to their respective charities.

The pair sounded committed to running it back next year when the Warriors host the All-Star Game at Chase Center in San Francisco and hinted that they could both pair up with a partner to expand the event — perhaps even with University of Iowa standout Caitlin Clark, who set the NCAA women’s all-time scoring record on Thursday.

“This was so authentic for the both of us to be here,” Ionescu said. “Obviously very thankful to kind of make this dream that we both had a possibility, and knowing that it’s changed the landscape of how people are going to view what we’re doing, and we’re very excited to see what the future has to hold with more people having the opportunity to do stuff like this.”

Added Curry: “For us to deliver a show like that, it was perfect. Just as much excitement as you can build in that short amount of time with two great shooters going at it.

“So, pretty special. This will be something that we remember for a long time.”

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