Mariotti: Curry's epic shot masks Warriors' inconsistent play 

click to enlarge Warriors guard Steph Curry may have defied the odds with his game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 3 against the Pelicans, but the Warriors as a whole need to elevate their game if they expect to compete against top-tier teams. - GERALD HERBERT/AP
  • Gerald Herbert/AP
  • Warriors guard Steph Curry may have defied the odds with his game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 3 against the Pelicans, but the Warriors as a whole need to elevate their game if they expect to compete against top-tier teams.
New Orleans — Eight times, nine times, maybe 10, Stephen Curry kept pushing rewind. He was watching his latest break-the-Internet video in his hotel room, primarily to see why a foul wasn’t called after he was pummeled by Anthony Davis and a second flying body. He still doesn’t understand, nor do the rest of us.

“That’s why I quit football,” Curry said the day after, relieved to be at practice and not in intensive care.

The NBA agreed, announcing Friday night that a foul should have been whistled. In botching the call, the officials cost Curry a more dramatic place in lore: an epic four-point play to win Game 3, rather than a magnificent three to force overtime. Just to be clear, he did not close his eyes as he shot, as at least one newspaper reported. “Those shots are the ones you mess around with in shootarounds, at practice,” he said. “Last second, catch it, shoot quick.”

Nothing but net, nothing but history.

Elsewhere in the hotel, Steve Kerr couldn’t sleep at all, but Andrew Bogut did. And when he woke up in a fog Friday, he wasn’t quite sure if the Warriors had won or lost. “I had to go on NBA.com to make sure we won that game,” he said. “We definitely stole one. That’s what good teams do.”

The question is whether championship teams do. As a bedazzled nation and enraptured Bay Area marvel at the latest chapter of the Curry Experience, those in the know about playoff basketball are focusing on the reality behind the euphoria: The Warriors aren’t playing all that well. They had to hold back a furious Pelicans rally in Game 1 at home. They had to climb from a 13-point crater to win Game 2 at home. And they were (fill in preferred ugly description here) in falling behind 20 before staging the third-biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history. Championship visions, these are not.

Lost in the rapture of a 3-0 series lead is the fact their offense, a free-flowing masterpiece all season, had broken down in an alarming three-quarter stretch of discombobulation. The Pelicans, after barely qualifying for the postseason, had figured out the golden machine. They were switching furiously on defense, effectively separating Curry and Klay Thompson from the role players on whom they are so dependent. They looked befuddled, dispirited. They couldn’t stop Davis and Ryan Anderson on one end, and couldn’t locate their fluid attack mode on the other. Even in pulling off the epic comeback victory, they shot only 41.1 percent — while New Orleans was at 51.1 percent. They’ve hit just 34 of 100 shots from the three-point stripe that defines their identity and spins their groove, with Curry making only 35 percent of his threes and still not in his shooting rhythm on a 10-for-29 night.

The team mantra for the postseason is “Strength In Numbers.” Not those numbers, obviously.

The Warriors can get by with erratic stretches against the neophyte Pelicans. But little of this would translate into success once they advance in the jungle zone that is the Western Conference. Think the inconsistency will work against the physicality and playoff savvy of the Memphis Grizzlies, their likely next opponent? Think it will fly against the Spurs, assuming they survive the Clippers and Rockets? During those gruesome three quarters, no one had made a trey other than the Splash Brothers. It took Kerr’s switch to a small lineup, and the resulting dirty-work dominance of Draymond Green, to flip the losing script. The Warriors had 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, and for all the well-deserved exaltations about Curry’s cold blood, this game was won by the likes of Green, Shaun Livingston and Mo Speights, the latter of whom made Curry’s miracle possible with a rebound and perfect swing pass that found Def Steph in stride, as Drew Brees might do next door.

We’re still waiting for the complete, four-quarter performance that Kerr has been demanding. To win the Larry O’Brien Jug and not succumb to the franchise’s usual playoff bummer, the Warriors need that effort in Game 4 and beyond. At times in the first half, there was sniping between some players, poor body language. As a veteran of five title teams, Kerr realizes he can’t get swept up in the wild comebacks, knowing they’ll likely end up as losses in the next rounds. That’s why he didn’t sleep, preferring to watch the Game 3 replay.

“The fourth quarter and overtime were fun. The first three quarters weren’t fun,” Kerr said. “Just win, baby, as Al Davis would say. Somehow, we got a win, but we have to figure out how to get better.

“I was very disappointed. I felt we were scattered and lost our composure in taking quick shots, trying to hit the home run instead of putting together a good series of screens and cuts. ... It’s not being patient to allow for the next pass, the next cut, the next move to happen. When you take a quick shot, you’re trying to get it all back at once. Our defense wasn’t very good. Everything starts with our defense. It has to be better because it improves our offense.”

Kerr actually was conceding the game in the huddle before the historic fourth quarter, urging his players to simply generate something positive they could take into Game 4. “I don’t recognize what I’m seeing,” he told them. How many times has he pleaded for sharper play this week?

Answer: after Game 1, after Game 2, after Game 3.

It’s wonderful that a momentary crisis turned into an all-time comeback victory, but the Warriors can’t make habits of alternately going hot and cold for no detectable reason. It’s not a formula conducive to a ring ceremony.

“You don’t want to make anything harder than it should be,” Curry said. “We had a horrible first half offensively, and our defense was horrendous,” Bogut said. “But even though we looked like crap for three and a half quarters, unless we’re down 40 or 50 going into the fourth quarter, we know we’re within striking distance.”

Not against the Grizzlies, they’re not. Not against the Spurs or LeBrons, they’re not. Charles Barkley, so obsessed with being right in forecasting Golden State’s demise, has been urging teams to beat up the Warriors and disrupt their beautiful form of basketball.

He was chirping at halftime of Game 3, saying on the TNT set, “We always know with a jumpshooting team, it’s always great ... when the shots go in.”

By night’s end, Barkley was complimentary. But Saturday brought another chance to give them the ragdoll treatment, as he did after Game 2.

“People think I dislike the Golden State Warriors, which is totally wrong. I just think they are ... I’ve never called ‘em soft. I think you can punish ‘em down low on the offensive boards,” Barkley said. “Listen, they got the best backcourt in the NBA. But I think you saw in Steve Kerr’s (post-game) words — he is concerned, because they turn the ball over and take bad shots. They’re great shooters, but they take bad shots.”

When his partner, straight man Ernie Johnson, tried to defend the Warriors, Charles persisted. “They’re not playing an elite team, Ernie. They’re playing a No. 8 team,’’ he said. “When they play Memphis or Portland next round, teams like that, if they happen to meet DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin (of the rival Clippers), that’s where I think their flaws are really gonna show.”

What’s healthy about inconsistent play is that it lowers the satisfaction quotient. Put it this way: Friday night in a crazy town, the Warriors were focused on finishing out an iffy series the right way. “I don’t worry too much about our guys,” Kerr said. “They’re in the hotel, watching movies and playing video games. I don’t think you’ll see anybody at Jazz Fest.” Not a soul was at Jazz Fest after 6 p.m. Lightning and a tornado watch shut it down.

No, Steph Curry didn’t cause the lightning.

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

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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