SAN ANTONIO Having played all but four seconds of a 58-minute playoff game, Stephen Curry dragged himself into the interview room seeming tired and looking exhausted and doing all he could to avoid sounding defeated.
He had performed to the limits of his endurance, surely leaving a part of him on the floor. Finishing with 44 points and 11 assists, Curry had put his team in command, seemingly done enough to finally vanquish a San Antonio Spurs team with a long-held dominance over the Golden State Warriors.
And yet it was not enough.
The Spurs pulled themselves together for a stirring comeback to tie the game in the final minutes, sending it into overtime and then double overtime before taking a 129-127 victory Monday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. Curry and the Warriors were left to deal with heartbreak.
“We’ll continue to learn,” said Curry, a former star at Davidson. “We’ll continue to go through these tough experiences and learn as a team.”
Curry and his teammates, as well as coach Mark Jackson, said they will get over this, pointing out how they recovered after losing Game 1 of their first-round series with Denver before coming back to win four of the next five to advance.
“We’re a young basketball team that will be better at the end of the day for playing against the San Antonio Spurs,” Jackson said. “I saw a lot of good things during the course of the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t close it.”
This game, for many reasons, including San Antonio’s unrelenting proficiency and the Warriors’ brutal history in this town, will be considerably more difficult to dismiss than Game 1 against the Nuggets or any game during the regular season.
The Warriors had done so much to win this game, taking and controlling it throughout. The sellout crowd (18,581) at AT&T Center was stunned by the temerity of these lovable losers daring to beat their Spurs, in this house, in the postseason.
The Warriors were up 16, 98-82, with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Curry was putting on another fantastic shooting display. He wasn’t supposed to be able to run his game here, not in this place. This is where his rise would begin its descent.
Yet Curry was taking it to the Spurs, scoring 22 points in the third quarter on 9-of-12 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3-point distance. He was producing and directing, delivering another of those patented displays for which no opponent seems to have a solution.
Wouldn’t this give the Warriors enough of a cushion to withstand a comeback?
It circled the drain in precisely the fashion most feared by Warriors fans. There were unsightly turnovers, sloppy defense and suddenly ice-cold shooting. There were a total of five field goals, three by Curry, in a 14-point fourth quarter.
“If we hit shots and make up for a lot of mistakes on the other end …,” Curry said. “But it was a (combination) of missing shots and making mistakes on the defensive end.”
It was more than enough to create an opening for these Spurs, playoff perennials, to take the postseason neophytes to school.
And when Spurs guard Manu Ginobili drained a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in double OT, taking the Warriors down for the night, the lesson was over. Painful, but over.
That shot also sent the Warriors’ losing streak in San Antonio to an astonishing 30 games, dating more than 16 years.
How can they not believe, on some level, that this is a curse? How do they tell themselves that history is only history, with no current significance or mythological meaning?
When Kent Bazemore’s layup gave the Warriors a one-point lead with 3.9 second left in double OT, this was the end of The Streak. It was over, dead at 29.
If the Warriors can’t win this kind of game here, how on earth are they supposed to believe they’ll find a way to steal a close one in this place?
“We know how to come back because we have been a resilient team all year,” Curry said. “We just have to turn it back on and be ready for Game 2.”
Sounds easy, does hard. This was an especially cruel way to go, seemingly as much about a power beyond them as it was about their own skill. The Warriors will indeed need everything they have inside when they return to this place Wednesday night.
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