Mariotti: With Curry misfiring and Green in daze, Warriors exposed as flawed team 

click to enlarge Stephen Curry
  • Mark Humphrey/ap
  • Stephen Curry did not look like himself in Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, hitting only 2 of 10 3-point attempts.

MEMPHIS -- Those Lone Ranger masks? The ones distributed to fans as a tribute to Mike Conley, whose protective shield seems to have become an inspirational hybrid of Michael Jordan’s flu game, Tiger Woods’ 91-hole limp, Kirk Gibson’s one-legged homer and Knute Rockne’s speech? Turns out they served a second purpose Saturday night.

They doubled as blinders, so no one would have to watch the miserable, misfiring, mistake-muddled Warriors.

Is this karma’s way of punishing them for the longest Most Valuable Player ceremony on record? Ever since Stephen Curry thanked everyone from his second-grade pet turtle to the security guy, he has performed like an imposter, and his teammates consequently have wandered with him into a fog thicker and murkier than anything they see in the Bay Area. At the moment, hold all thoughts about an NBA championship. If the Dubs don’t find their way soon, they won’t win another game in the Western Conference semifinals.

“This is a laboring process for us. We’re a very young team. This is kind of our moment of truth,’’ Steve Kerr said after the 99-89 loss to the Grizzlies in Game 3, which leaves them in a 2-games-to-1 hole. “You have to learn in the postseason.’’

Whoa there, $25 Million Coach. Less than a week ago, your team was considered a robust contender for the Larry O’Brien Jug after a 67-victory regular season and a 5-0 postseason start. You had the national celebration of Curry, the Splash Brothers craze. You had an impenetrable homecourt advantage. You were considered the most exciting team in sports, leaders of a 3-point revolution.

Now, suddenly, you have a “very young team’’ in a learning phase?

Sounds like Kerr is looking for a bailout, now that a suspicious hoops world realizes the Game 2 clunker at Oracle was no aberration. The Grizzlies have embarrassed the Warriors twice now, like men toying with kids, again dominating the paint with veteran brute force and exposing them as stragglers with no Plan B if the trusty 3-pointers don’t drop. They hit only 6 of 26 trey attempts — the same ugly numbers as Game 2 — and Curry is looking alternately like he’s exhausted from the MVP hangover and out of control like a Beale Street drunk. He hit only 2 of 10 from beyond the arc, which followed his 2-of-11 washout Tuesday, and Draymond Green offered no help with one basket, five turnovers and an unforgivable lane violation after the Warriors had trimmed a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit to six with 3:36 left.

Shaking his head as he analyzed the final statistics sheet, Curry was baffled, if not yet bewildered. “I have to play better for sure. No question about that,’’ he said on a 23-point night, which came two weeks after he ousted New Orleans with a 38-point masterpiece. “I have to play better if we’re going to win playoff games on the road. I hold myself to a high standard. I haven’t reached it yet.’’

Curry admitted the stunning turn of events has been frenzied — first the opening-game blowout, then the MVP ceremony, then two crushing losses that few saw coming. “It’s been a crazy week,’’ he said. Having had plenty of rest all season and a week off between playoff series, he says he isn’t tired. But the precious chemistry that defined the Warriors — oneness, selflessness — may have been altered by the Curry ceremony, jolting a team equilibrium perhaps far more delicate than we’d assumed. Isn’t it logical to wonder about the cause and effect? “I’m trying not to think about it,’’ he said of the MVP madness. “When I stepped on the floor tonight, I felt pretty good. If I miss a shot, I hear (mock MVP chants). I have to block out all that extra noise. I don’t think there is any hangover from the festivities. I do expect to play better than I did today.’’

He may be the MVP, but he is not Jordan, LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Curry is a marvelous shooter, not an all-encompassing basketball force, and if his shot is off, he needs teammates to step up more than other superstars would. Green went 1 for 8 and was booed every time he touched the ball by a yahoo crowd that thinks, absurdly, that he tried to hurt Conley when he inadvertently made contact with the mask in Game 2.

That lane violation, Draymond? With Curry on the foul line? “Just wasn’t smart,’’ Green said. “You’re talking a 90-percent free-throw shooter, and in the heat of the moment, all I’m thinking is that we’d just missed a couple of free throws and that I wanted to try to get the rebound. It’s a stupid play you can’t make in a game of this magnitude. You’re talking about a guy who is supposed to have a high basketball IQ.’’

Thompson hurt the cause with critical free-throw misses and has been erratic in this series; he and Curry commit too many reckless turnovers. “This is the first adversity we’ve faced this year,’’ Thompson said. “It’s a long series, and we won’t be the first team to come back in a series down 2-1. There are going to be some bumps in the road if you want to win a championship.’’

Rather than dropping the big c-word, how about merely competing better in Game 4 at the Grindhouse, as they call FedEx Forum? Kerr doesn’t seem to have answers. I have no idea why he was smiling late in the third quarter, as the Dubs were being drubbed. He likes to drop Mister Rogers pronouncements about life — that he’s blessed to be part of this game, these playoffs — but he’s also two losses from becoming one of the bigger disappointments in pro basketball history, a 67-win team collapsing in the second round against a No. 4 seed. By channeling the grit and grind of Tony (First-Team All-Defense) Allen and taking away the perimeter that Curry and Thompson so dearly hug, the Grizzlies have challenged the Warriors to find another way to win a game than by splashing threes. They apparently do not have another way.

This, friends, is astounding to those of us who thought the title aspirations were legitimate, who thought the Dubs were redefining the league and taking over the region, who thought they had the young demographic hooked, who thought Joe Lacob was going to get his Mission Bay arena with ease. All of those things still could happen. But if Kerr doesn’t figure something out by Monday night, and the Warriors fall behind 3-1, well, are the Giants serious about getting Scott Kazmir?

And what’s he going to figure out when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are combining inside for 43 points and 23 rebounds, Allen and Conley are defending the perimeter, the likes of Kosta Koufos and Beno Udrih are contributing off the bench, and the fans are screaming through their masks?

“We’ve been here before, we know what it takes,’’ Randolph said. “For us, this is a defensive series. We lock in on defense and worry about offense next. Their strength is their shooting ability, and that’s what we focus on, staying down on the pump fakes.’’

And the crowd? “They meant the world to us,’’ Gasol said. “It gives you goosebumps, seeing how they’re ready for the game a half-hour before. It’s amazing.’’

The scene will be crazier for Game 4, which Curry called “a must win.’’ The Warriors know what’s coming today. “Everything’s gonna go against us,’’ Green said. “You know: ‘The Warrriors are a jumpshooting team, they’re jumpshots aren’t falling.’ All that stuff’s gonna come out. We have to respond to it.’’

Can they? You’d like to think the solution is as easy as Curry rediscovering his shooting eye. “It’s been about how the ball has been falling the last two games,’’ he said. “If I make a couple of more shots tonight, we’re not talking about all this.’’

Uh, yes, we would be.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist for 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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