Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stephen Curry's arc of glory raised higher still for soaring Warriors

Ethan Sherwood StraussESPN Staff WriterFebruary 28, 2016

Photo by Layne Murdoch | NBAE via Getty Images
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr occasionally gets asked to compare his current superstar to his former teammate and basketball demigod Michael Jordan. He draws a distinction, but it's more related to personality than efficacy.
In Miami on Wednesday, Kerr said, "These guys are really competitive, more so than you'd think. I mean, you knew it with Jordan, because he played with an anger. Steph plays with joy, so maybe you don't see it as much. Steph inside is a killer. Really he is."
Michael played with anger. Steph plays with joy. The modality makes no difference to opponents who get killed just the same. On Saturday night though, in a thrilling 121-118 Warriors overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State needed more of the joy and less of the anger.
The Warriors were down 57-46 at halftime when tensions boiled over. On the television broadcast, ESPN's Lisa Salters said the following:
"One of the players, believed to be Draymond Green, was shouting so loudly and using such profanity in the locker room that it could be heard well outside the locker room. At one point, the player said, 'I'm not a robot. You messed me up right now. If you don't want me to shoot, tell me, and I won't ever shoot again.' As his teammates tried to calm him down, he could be heard saying, 'Come over and sit me down.' OKC police heard it and came to stand outside the locker room, just in case they were needed."
It went from bad to worse when Russell Westbrook landed on Curry's ankle with 10:35 left in the third quarter. Curry limped his way through the tunnel to the locker room, dragging Golden State's hopes with him. This was a game the Warriors were going to lose. Even for a team that has done unprecedented winning, defeat seemed inevitable.
Then, Curry returned and continued unleashing his own brand of inevitability. He simply couldn't be guarded, though many tried. His first seven 3-pointers were defended by, in order: Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Serge IbakaSteven AdamsEnes KanterDion Waiters and Kyle Singler. His long 3 over Adams was right in the big man's mustachioed face. Curry was stopped, 28-feet from the hoop, with Adams standing and staring. Curry arced the ball at an angle inches above the center's outstretched hand. Curry's follow through landed between Adams' fingers before the ball found net.
In the end, Curry hit 12 3-pointers, many of the confounding variety, but none more so than the last. With the game tied and roughly eight seconds remaining in overtime, Westbrook missed a go-ahead bank shot. The ball caromed to Andre Iguodala, who funneled it to Curry. From there, Curry casually, at a jog, dribbled the ball to a spot beyond the hashmark, deeper than 30 feet. At this moment, members of the Thunder bench were wildly gesticulating at Andre Roberson, beseeching him to sprint at Curry. It was too late, and, as the game winner started falling from the sky, frustrated Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter threw his hands in the air. He didn't need to see it go in. The result was inevitable.
After the splash, a joyous Curry danced as teammates went into a chest-bumping frenzy. There was still a fraction of a second to be played, but most of that timeout was consumed by revelry.
It took some surprising, if not lucky, plays for Golden State to reach that moment of inevitable victory. Golden State was down 11 with 4:51 to go in regulation, before subbing in their Death Lineup (Curry, Klay Thompson, Green, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes). The Warriors roared back, cutting the lead to one before Durant appeared to end the game on a 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left.
From there, a minor miracle was needed. Thompson, who had hit his first 3 of the game on the previous possession, turned the corner for a fast layup. A quick two might have been an odd choice for a team so skilled beyond the arc, but there was a method to this madness. Defensive-minded Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams likes to spring a surprise trap in these situations, and trap the Warriors did.
Durant's long pass was batted out of the air by Thompson, then saved back to Thompson by Green. Iguodala received the ball, pump-faked Durant into the air and drew the foul with less than a second remaining. The Warriors still needed Iguodala -- a poor free throw shooter -- to make both of his tries. After Iguodala made his second, he shrugged at his jubilant teammates as though overtime was never in doubt.
In overtime, the Warriors fell down by five quickly and had to make up ground. Durant fouled out in the extra period, and Oklahoma City nearly were tugged to victory on Westbrook's shoulders. An and-1 by Thompson set up Curry's final masterpiece on the last Golden State possession, a play Curry described with the languid manner of someone explaining their morning workout routine:
"When I got the ball, I knew coach said if we got a stop and a clean rebound, push it. I looked up when I got the ball, there's about five or six seconds left, and the way they were shuffling around in transition, I was able to kind of just go at my own pace and rise up. And I got my feet set and watched it go in."
After the game, you never would have taken this locker room for a scene that drew an exterior police presence at halftime. Laughter was abundant as players soaked up their coup. The preceding tensions seemed to be an afterthought and taboo subject all at once.
When asked about what happened, Kerr said, "Things get emotional occasionally, and we were all angry about the way we played in the first half and things happen, and there's nothing to it and that's it."
When asked if this was unusual for Green, Kerr said, "Very unusual. Very unusual. But that's all I'm going to say about it, because that's our private business. But, since everybody heard the yelling, you guys can write whatever you want, but I'm not going to comment anymore on that."
While the specifics of that particular locker room blowup aren't yet clear, this much is: Since Kerr's return to the sideline, Green is shooting less often from range. Before Kerr came back, Green was attempting 3.6 3-point attempts, making 41.1 percent. After Kerr's return, Green is averaging 1.6 3-point attempts, making 29.2 percent.
In Atlanta on Monday, queried Kerr about Green's sudden drop in 3-point attempts. The coach said, "He was 0-for-4 tonight, so, that's a lot, isn't it? You know, with Draymond, he's a rhythm shooter. I always tell him, it's not the first one to take. It's the one on the back end of the possession when we've moved the defense around and they're scrambling, and then we might get an offensive rebound or he's more likely to be in rhythm. But the only ones I don't like are the early ones, because early in the possession, why not make them guard Steph and Klay and Andre [Iguodala] cutting and make the defense work a little bit more?"
Green has often been more eager to launch than Kerr would prefer. Whether that's a serious issue remains to be seen, as the Warriors keep winning nearly every game. Issues involving Draymond can also be complicated by how indivisible his ferocity is from his greatness.
As Kerr said after Saturday's contest, "You guys know Draymond, come on. A part of what makes him special is his emotion and his passion. So nothing major happened. Obviously we came out and played great in the second half."
Curry's spellbinding play did much to obscure whatever acrimony flowed freely. On this six-game road trip, he hasn't allowed the Warriors to suffer for their human flaws. Over these six games, he averaged 38.2 points, 7.2 assists and 7.2 made 3s. On nights when the Warriors appeared ragged and sloppy, he has delivered those deus ex machina moments. On this evening, against a hungry, talented opponent, Curry's joyous success washed away the anger.


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