NEW ORLEANS -- You know what they always say – to be the presumptive heir to the throne, you’ve got to beat the presumptive heir to the throne.
And as the New Orleans Pelicans learned to their great detriment Thursday night, you have to keep beating that heir, again and again and again until it seems excessive.
Because in the playoffs, excessive is very often just barely enough.
The Pelicans beat the Golden State Warriors several times Thursday night, but not enough to save themselves from the shortcomings that always bedevil the desperate eight-seed. Thus, in losing Game 3, a 123-119 overtime reaper-cheater, they learned the harshest lesson of all, namely that the game isn’t over when you say it’s over. It’s when they say it’s over. And “they” can be just about anyone.
And the Warriors learned – again – that it’s never too late to need Curry.
Thursday, in Game 3 of this soon-to-be-completed Western Conference quarterfinal series, the moribund Warriors rose in stages to turn a sure Pelican rout into an elating win that puts them one more step from winning a series in which they haven’t played particularly well for long stretches and abominably for most of Thursday.
And all because Curry got a second look at a corner trey with Golden State down 108-105 and 2.8 seconds left. With a foul to use, the Pelicans, who had blown most of a 20-point lead, didn’t, and Curry got his patented flailing three off over Anthony Davis and Quincy Pondexter with 2.8 seconds left that was, as they say, money.
Money, plus an uncalled foul which would have added a knee-to-the-groin to the insult and injury already delivered.
“We just ran a play that had a look for me or Klay,” Curry, who finished with 40 despite a very pedestrian 10-of-29 shooting night, said. “I missed the first one, but Mo (Marreese Speights) made a great play to get it, take a dribble and assess the situation and get it back to me in the corner. Once Mo got the rebound, Quincy lost me, and he gave me a great shovel pass, and I had to get it up quick before they closed me out and keep it as normal as I could. I got a good enough look to see it go in before they clobbered me.”
Curry didn’t get the call he sought, but the death blow had been struck. The Pelicans tried to regain control in the overtime, but Curry hit a 26-footer to start the overtime and Harrison Barnes followed with another a minute later. New Orleans scrambled to get within one off a Ryan Anderson trey, but it was a last gasp, and a ruthless lesson for a team that needed one.
Namely, that when you fall into the trap of thinking that controlling a game for 44 minutes is the same as winning it, you’ve lost it, even when you’re playing against a team even its own coach doesn’t know.
“I didn’t recognize the team I was watching for three quarters,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “We didn’t play with any poise or composure. I thought we were as bad as we’ve been in a very long time.
And then as good as they had to be to position themselves for Curry’s latest reaper-cheater. They held the Pelicans to a miserable 7-for-19 quarter and got 10 offensive rebounds to help fuel a 39-19 comeback.
Even at that, the comeback would have died had not the Pelicans failed to foul on the final possession despite head coach Monty Williams’ direct instructions.
It was one final error in a quarter full of them, as the Pelicans counted all 20 of their chickens before they were actually hatched, and paying the cruelest price for that oversight.
Normally owning a game as the Pelicans did would mean something enduring, but the rules are different for eight-seeds. There is always something that can go wrong, or weird, or against the laws of man and god alike – thus the art of finishing an opponent is entirely dependent upon doing it over and over again, until there is no time or life left.
But being up 89-69 before an enraptured crowd at Smoothie King Center was just a false positive. It shouldn’t have been and if the Pelicans had been here before, it probably wouldn’t have.
But it was, and they hadn’t been, so it wasn’t. New Orleans found out what a devastating loss feels like, having a superior team at its heel and not pressing down that one last time.
“We’re all feeling like dirt right now,” Williams said. “You want to build them up, but there’s nothing that can build you up in a situation like that. We’ve got to deal with it and own it.”
Either that, or endure a grisly continuation of that lesson that could last all summer, with every day of it featuring Stephen Curry’s smiling killer face.