OAKLAND-- Stephen Curry turned his home office into a gigantic Tupperware Friday night with five minutes left in Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal. His left ankle crumpled in an as-yet-undiagnosed way, and when he winced, the air was sucked out of the building with a totality that may last 38 hours, or until the start of Game 4.
That was the emotional toll of San Antonio’s 102-92 win. The practical one, though, was as compelling – the correct team won, and won from beginning to end, by defending, by getting Tony Parker (32 points, five assists) and Tim Duncan (23 points, 10 rebounds) to widen their fields of vision and take greater initiative offensively, and by getting what head coach Gregg Popovich called “four, five, six guys who played pretty darned well.”
And Popovich does not rave often.
But when Curry suddenly seized up with five minutes left and the Spurs up, 90-81, the pucker factor in the building rose by a factor of 19,596. This area has gravitated to Curry as the be-all, end-all and shoot-all of this team and this series, and a half-healthy or even absent him dramatically alters not only the series but the atmosphere surrounding it.
Of course, there was some postgame grumbling about Curry remaining in the game after the tweak/twinge/roll (the Warriors’ medical staff will provide the proper slang term come the morning), and there was general outrage about Jarrett Jack’s difficult night across the board.
The Spurs broke quickly, as the Warriors had in Game 2, and though Golden State tied the game as late as 65-65 on a Curry 27-footer – oddly, his last basket of the game – it could never take the lead. The Spurs immediately pushed the lead back to 76-65, and did not have to look behind them again. They were the Spurs of yesterday, yesterweek, yestermonth, yesteryear.
Parker had a better half (25 on 11 of 14 shots) Friday than Klay Thompson had in Game 2. Challenged specifically by Popovich to be more aggressive and more aware of his surroundings, plus Thompson’s struggles against him gave San Antonio a firm early grasp, and in the second half when Parker cooled, Duncan (13 and 8) grabbed the second half.
And interspersed throughout were subtle but important contributions from center Tiago Splitter, forward Boris Diaw, swing man Kawhi Leonard and Parker’s understudy for the evening, Cory Joseph. They all conspired and performed to prevent the Warriors from manifesting the games they played in San Antonio, to the point where Curry had his worst shooting night of the postseason (5 of 17), Thompson finished 7 for 20, and a minus-13, and Jack was all but booed off the floor as the fans’ recurring blame-magnet.
Jackson tried to big-picture the loss, pointing to them lacking “the same energy, (not getting) after it the same way. We did not have a sense of urgency.” For you technocrats out there, he was also displeased with Golden State’s ball pressure on Parker, and its handling of screens set by Duncan and Splitter, most notably.
But the truth is, that was taken from them by the Spurs, who had their own battery of problems in the first two games. “They execute you to death,” Jackson said. “They have a lot of ball movement and man movement. They’re unselfish. They’re disciplined. That’s who they are.”
And Curry had been defined, almost too broadly, as who the Warriors are. They are more than that, but without Curry there is no true comprehension of what they are – except, frankly, an enormous ball of locally produced stress. David Lee might play more, and rotations will change yet again, but understanding who the Warriors are without Curry takes way more adjusting than a day and a half will allow.
But wait, there’s more. If Curry somehow cannot play Sunday (and the betting is still on him enduring whatever medical accoutrements required to make it so), Jackson did not hesitate to invoke Jack’s name as the logical inheritor of the crown that cannot be worn. “We will give him the basketball, and trust that we’ll be just fine,” he said, trying to infuse belief where there is only rivers of doubt.
Friday night came, and it ended too early. And then it really ended. Now we’ll see if it can still produce a Sunday worth the bother of getting Warrior fans out of bed.