Mariotti: 'A miracle' as Curry's prayer caps historic comeback for Warriors in OT win 

NEW ORLEANS — The casino is over by the river, not far from the team hotel. You may as well spend some time there if you're Stephen Curry and the Warriors, having escaped a self-induced deficit — or survived a subconscious dare, take your pick — unlike few in recent NBA history. While they're at it, they might as well go to Jazz Fest, where Lil' Nathan & the Zydeco Big Timers hit the stage tonight, unless Curry prefers Wilco or Keith Urban or various Nevilles and Marsalises.

This first-round series is over, but to leave it at that is to understate what happened Thursday near midnight in this freaky city. As gambling goes, this was madness. Down by 20 points after three quarters, looking as sloppy and hapless as we've seen them in months, the Warriors almost seemed to be creating a challenge for themselves. They returned from the dead with a steady, poised, methodical comeback punctuated by the expected ending: Curry, his team trailing by three in the final 5 seconds, launching a 3-pointer that missed, gaining a reprieve thanks to Mo Speights' rebound and perfect pass at the hip, then making an impossible 3 with 2.8 seconds left to tie the game as he was mauled and sent sprawling by Anthony Davis and another defender.

Of course, Curry made it splash when the Warriors needed it most, in the shot that now defines his career as one of basketball's all-time shooting greats. Of course, the Pelicans didn't foul him, ignoring their coach's orders. Of course, the Warriors went on to win in overtime 123-119, surviving a 19-0 New Orleans run in the second quarter to take a 3-0 series lead.

We keep waiting for this team to slip. Instead, even when the Warriors expose flaws, they continue to ascend and find unique ways to captivate, lifting us to higher places in what already is becoming a glorious postseason. Again, if there was any question about the MVP award, Curry reminded the doubters again why it's him — and why you'd want no one else in the sport, and no one since Michael Jordan, to have the ball in the corner with the game in jeopardy.

"I'm not going to call it a miracle, but it was pretty close," Curry said. "I tried to get a clean look the first time, but it was short. Mo Speights made a big play, had the wherewithal to grab it, take a dribble and see me relocate to the corner. Thankfully, I got if off quick enough before those two guys clobbered me. I got to see it go in, and it was a great feeling. We had all the momentum at that point. It was just a matter of finishing it out."

Never will Curry shower himself in praise. The others are glad to do it for him.

"I'm gonna have to watch the tape. I'm not sure what just happened. I'm as startled as anyone else," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We had nothing going for three quarters. It was as bad a game as we've played in a long time.

"But we have something special with our team. They're never out of it. They have great confidence, sometimes too much confidence, which is probably what got us into trouble in the first place. We walk the line between being explosive and careless, and I thought we were careless and really forcing things most of the night."

The trademark of the Warriors: With Curry and Klay Thompson, no deficit is too large to overcome. They don't want to make a habit of this, needing SuperSteph to bail them out. Yet when it does happen, it's more exhilarating than any blowout. "As good as it gets," Kerr said of the final shot, this coming from a man who played beside Jordan and hit his own jumper to win a championship. "A three with 2 seconds left, and he got fouled, too. It could have been a four-point play [that would have likely lead to a victory]. To make that shot is everything Steph is about, even on a night when he's not having a great shooting performance [10 of 29]. His confidence level is off the charts. He's fearless, he wants every shot. That's why he's Steph Curry."

Said Thompson, his fellow Splash Brother who has no problem playing wingman to one of sport's most exciting and complelling performers: "It was amazing, one of the biggest shots of Steph's career. The degree of difficulty was incredible. I was proud."

Yes, he was fouled. Why the officials didn't call it, only they know, but for posterity, Curry deserved to complete the four-point play. That way, it would have made an even bigger dent in the basketball consciousness, not that his outerworldly profile hasn't been established firmly enough. "Once I got it off, I was bracing for contact. I got hit really hard. I thought they should have been a foul call," Curry said. "Once I landed, I was glad I didn't get hurt. I saw the ball go in, looked at the ref to see why he didn't call it, then I realized two seconds were left and they had the ball."

Tyreke Evans missed. The Warriors needed only to run out the clock. When down by 20 after three quarters, they had been 0-356 in the shot-clock era. Make that 1-356.

"We didn't execute the game plan. We were supposed to foul," said Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who can spew a decibel-level conspiracy about Oracle Arena but can't send a strong enough message for his team to foul. Might Scott Brooks or Tom Thibodeau be the next coach for Davis?

As the Warriors have flexed muscles, collected nicknames, lobbied for awards, taped TV commercials, talked crap, run their offense like a kamikaze mission and more or less mesmerized a sports nation, it hasn't occurred to them that they might be challenged eventually. The concept is rather unfamiliar to them, and when they try to say it, they speak in tongues.

Ch-ch-ch-challenge? What exactly is a challenge?

Isn't this season all about coming off a screen, winging up another 3-pointer, looking at the scoreboard and admiring another double-digit lead?

Not in the first half.

Their mettle and qualifications as a would-be NBA champion were being tested. Their hyperspeed assault on the basketball senses decelerated to an unrecognizable crawl, as if stuck in a vat of jambalaya. The Pelicans — whose nascent phenom, Davis, said twice this week, "We know we can beat this team," — blew right past them with an even better Warriors impression. Anyone who thought 19-0 was how the Dubs would enter their clincher game of the NBA Finals — 15 straight wins in the playoffs, four straight to close the regular season — was shocked to see them on the abused end of a 19-0 run. How many times this magical season have they failed to score in a five-minute stretch? Was this an aberration, an occasional consequence of playoff basketball?

Or was this bigger than that, a symbolic dismantling? After so much running and gunning and whip-passing and talking and chirping and winning, was it fair to briefly wonder if they'd been figured out — and mastered by a 22-year-old pterodactyl who views them as just another opponent? So unnerved were the Warriors by Davis in Game 3, Speights was forced to play hockey goon late in the third quarter. As Davis nonchalantly flipped the ball toward the hoop after he was fouled, Speights got in the kid's face and bumped him. The Warriors were being outhustled, outenergized, outrebounded and outcoached in front of a rocking red-swarm crowd that included New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and his quarterback, Drew Brees.

For the fourth, Kerr rested Curry at the outset and went to a small lineup, including Shaun Livingston, who produced 12 points and huge offensive rebounds late. "We were pretty desperate. Our small unit turned it into a track meet," Kerr said. "We were down by 20, but you never know. You definitely have to be composed and have an idea what you're doing. I don't think we knew what we were doing for three quarters."

And what's crazier: If Curry had made his first heave, the replay would have shown that his foot landed on the 3-point line, meaning it would have counted for two and the Warriors likely would have lost. Of course, of course.

"A miracle," said Kerr, trying to gather it all in.

But how can it be a miracle when Steph Curry is involved? He's as real as the sound of the ball ripping through twine.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at

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Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at
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