Mariotti: Is this the Last Supper for Warriors? 

click to enlarge After winning the MVP award last week, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry has floundered, shooting a combined 4-for-21 from the 3-point line in Games 2 and 3. - MARK HUMPHREY/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Mark Humphrey/AP file photo
  • After winning the MVP award last week, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry has floundered, shooting a combined 4-for-21 from the 3-point line in Games 2 and 3.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The police were positioned for problems, watching warily as thousands swarmed onto Beale Street just past midnight Sunday. It was a time to celebrate all things Memphis — grit and grind, Elvis and twang, dry rub and wet armpits — and it was not a night to wander into that mess if you were, say, a member of the Warriors.

Of course, a potential issue didn't stop Draymond Green. He joined David Lee and Festus Ezeli at the Blues City Cafe, self-declared home of the "best meal on Beale," where a neon sign urges eaters to "put some South in your mouth" across from a men's store claiming to have been "the clothier to The King," who still would be Elvis Presley, 59 years after he recorded "Hound Dog." Green may have been terrible in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals — missing seven of eight shots, committing a critical lane violation and coughing up his fifth and final turnover on a fastbreak that could have cut the Grizzlies' lead to two points with 1:15 left — yet he was smart enough after the loss to already ponder the smartest strategy for Game 4.

That would be picking up his cellphone in the restaurant and texting Stephen Curry, who was in his hotel room a block away, alone with his thoughts, his suddenly AWOL 3-point jumper and all the insults echoing around town — and a basketball nation — that he should hand back the Most Valuable Player trophy. Green was concerned for his teammate, his state of mind and the possibility that the MVP suddenly felt lonely after a tumultuous week.

"Come meet us here," he texted Curry. "And just relax. Everybody is up in flames, everybody wants to panic. Just come, sit, have dinner, relax."

Soon enough, the threesome was a foursome, and other than some folks taking photos of Curry from outside the window, a mission was accomplished without stress: Green still was trying to be a winner and a leader following two difficult nights of rare futility for the NBA's best regular-season team. We think of him as a quote machine with the opinionated Twitter mother, but in addition to being a character, he has character. "It was great," Green said of dinner. "We had a good time."

It will be remembered either as the meal that reversed the Warriors' skid or the Last Supper. They're all hearing noise after the double whammy that placed them in a 2-1 hole: Curry isn't the true MVP and is reduced to one-dimensionality when opponents take away his open shooting looks ... Steve Kerr isn't worth $25 million and hasn't made an effective adjustment in a series in which he's being outcoached by Dave Joerger ... Green isn't worth a max contract and has been bullied by the inside power duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol ... Andrew Bogut has disappeared ... the bench is useless. Add the right calf strain of Marreese Speights, who will miss the rest of the series, and the reality of NBA playoff history — teams that fall behind 2-1 in a seven-gamer end up losing the series more than 80 percent of the time — and, yes, the Warriors have deservingly assembled legions of newfound doubters.

Even Phil Jackson, who tried to hire Kerr as coach of the abysmal New York Knicks, seemed to take a swipe when he tweeted (forgive the typo), "NBA analysts give me some diagnostics on how 3pt oriented teams are faring this playoffs...seriously, how's it goink?" He followed, "Seriously, bball, it's about penetration," mentioning the title runs of the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. It's not goink well for the Warriors, who missed 20 of their 26 trey attempts in each of the last two games, with Curry going a combined 4 of 21. It's possible no amount of Beale Street barbecue or film preparation — Kerr had them watch the horror tape of the entire game Sunday, when a full-blown practice might have been a better idea — can answer the Grizzlies' strategy of hounding, pestering and making Curry and Klay Thompson as uncomfortable as possible.

"Try to harass them as much as possible," said Joerger, whose name is becoming pronounceable and profile bigger as he makes mincemeat of Kerr so far. "That tells you how much we were harassing them, that they can't come off screens and get good looks."

"We try to impose our will," said Randolph, who is unstoppable for Green, Bogut and, apparently, the rest of Northern California.

So, while Green and Bogut had better show up and reintroduce themselves to the series, the burden to pull the Warriors off their precipice belongs to the MVP and The Coach Who Enabled Him. Told of Jackson's crack, Kerr muttered under his breath, "I don't care." He preferred to talk about a defense that "has to be better" if there's any chance of rediscovering the freewheeling offense. And he preferred to discuss Curry and what he expects tonight in Game 4, aka the night that will define whether their season is a journey or a fraud.

"Steph has a big burden on his shoulders. He's the MVP of the league," Kerr said. "Their defensive focus is on him. We've got to do a better job of helping free him up. He's got to do a better job of trusting his teammates. As a group, we just have to play and trust the process. We've done that all year, but this is a tougher circumstance, and we're faced with some adversity here."

The last advice anyone will issue is for Curry to stop shooting. That would be lunacy. "The guy is fearless," Kerr said. "He has as much confidence as anyone I've seen. It's something where other people might shy away from shots [right now], but Steph's inclination is to take more. I don't think this is a confidence issue at all. It's more, 'Let's figure this out, let's take better shots, let's be more patient, let's use our fundamentals.' That's the part he has to sort through."

Over dinner, Green repeated the same message: Keep shooting. "Stay the course," he said. "He has to continue to take the shots he has taken, or we wouldn't be where we are. He is who he is for a reason. Those shots, he has proven over time, are going to fall. We know that.

"There were times in the game where we moved the ball and trusted each other. There were times where we didn't trust each other. I tried to do too much or Steph tried to do too much or Klay tried to do too much. We've got to make sure we're trusting each other on the offensive and defensive end."

It won't matter how well Curry is shooting if Randolph and Gasol continue to invade Green's head and force him into foul trouble. Of all the strange sights in these two losses, did anyone expect Green to shrink into an ineffective, tentative player on both ends? Remember, he was runner-up for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

"Early on in the game, they've had success. As the games start to wind down, they're not scoring so easy," said Green, trying to salvage hope. "I've got to be more aggressive on the defensive end instead of worrying about fouling, being cautious and giving up position. Maybe play a little smarter with my positioning ... use my quickness more early in the game, try to control the whole game."

For the first time in a magical season gone mad, the Warriors have been forced to think, strategize, visualize ... worry. It could be they're simply not as good as Memphis, that they've encountered just the experienced, physical opponent capable of exposing them as the regular-season bomb that went bust. But on a weekend night when they all could have sulked and separated, one teammate was concerned enough about another to text him. Maybe we'll remember the restaurant as the start of the great comeback.

Or, perhaps, as the source of indigestion and the beginning of the end.

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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