Steph Curry makes it all look so easy that we forget how hard it actually is.
Because Curry plays so gracefully, because he leads a Golden State Warriors team that is aesthetically the most pleasing team to watch in the NBA in years, you don’t see the gears grinding underneath the water. When it’s going well for Golden State – and it has been going well for months – all you see is the beauty.
But it went poorly Sunday. Very poorly. While in Los Angeles on another assignment, I drove to the Staples Center and watched as the woeful Los Angeles Lakers blasted Golden State, 112-95, in one of the most startling upsets of this NBA season.
Golden State’s offense felt like the Panthers offense in the Super Bowl, although of course the stakes Sunday were much lower. But the Warriors never clicked, always seemed to be behind and sputtered every time they had a chance. I mentioned the Super Bowl analogy to Curry after the game in the locker room.
“Yeah,” said the Panthers’ biggest celebrity fan, who was more anxious to talk about Carolina’s release of Charles Johnson and the franchise tag placed on Josh Norman than the game itself. “It did feel like that. And hopefully that’s the only one of these we have in our system.”
The Warriors are the best 3-point team in the league, and they went 4-for-30 from three-point range. Curry couldn’t believe it. No one else could, either. The Warriors were circus performers who fell off the tightrope and into the net on Sunday, making you suddenly remember how fragile things can be.
“I’d say 24 of those (26 missed three-pointers) were good shots that missed,” Curry said. “That just happens.”
The thing is it does happen, but it hardly ever happens to the player who led Davidson on a magical run to the Elite Eight in 2008. Charlotte’s favorite son was very human Sunday, as Curry played one of his worst games of his incredible season.
‘Splash Brothers’ lost in desert
The headline on ESPN.com while much of the game was going on seemed to mock every miss. It read: “Curry’s season better than Jordan’s best?”
I watched Curry’s whole pregame shooting routine. And while there was some wondrous stuff in there, he missed more shots than you might have expected he would if you have only seen his highlights. And then Curry had a very quiet 18-point game, going 6-for-20 from the field, with four assists and four turnovers.
Curry hit his first 3-point attempt 75 seconds into the game and then missed the last nine 3s he took. That was still better than Klay Thompson, who was 0-for-8 from deep. The Splash Brothers combined were a very dry 1-for-18 from 3-point range.
The Lakers came into the game 39 games under .500. Golden State came in 50 games over .500. Then the teams apparently switched jerseys.
Kobe Bryant scored a modest 12 points in 24 minutes in what was the last time he and Curry will ever face off. But Kobe’s teammates – all wearing Kobe Bryant tribute socks – were fantastic.
‘Millennials can’t focus’
And the Warriors? They were so scattered and unfocused that coach Steve Kerr made a quip about it afterward.
“I joke with Steph all the time, we’re millennials,” Kerr said. “This team is filled with millennials. And millennials can’t focus.”
“We were not very focused on getting better and how we were supposed to play to win tonight,” Curry sighed. “So – guilty as charged.”
Through 61 games, Golden State still has the best-ever NBA record at this point in the season (55-6). The Warriors would have to go 18-3 over the last 21 games to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record 72 wins.
Kerr played on that record-setting Bulls team with Michael Jordan and remembered Sunday that Chicago had a similar game in its season. “The Knicks beat us by about 35,” Kerr said. “This stuff happens.”
Curry did keep his record intact of hitting a 3-pointer in an NBA-record 131 consecutive regular-season games. He made his first attempt at a trey 75 seconds into the game, then missed his last nine from that range.
Kerr’s memory was good. The Knicks beat Chicago by 32 points that season. What is weirder is that the Bulls’ worst loss of the year came in the 61st game of the regular season – just like Sunday’s game was for Golden State.
“This was just one of those nights you want to avoid at all costs,” Curry said. “But it happened. And you know we’ll be all right.”
No time to pout over loss
No NBA player can linger long over a loss – there are simply too many games. Curry afterward was downcast. But he also took time to mention to me how well the Charlotte Hornets are playing (“sixth seed if playoffs started today, right?” he said).
And he expressed his hope that the Panthers and Johnson can somehow reconcile in a way that would mean the Panthers longtime defensive end coming back to play for Carolina this fall for less money.
Then it was time for the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player to get on a bus, ride to the airport and fly back to the Bay Area. Golden State plays again Monday night, at home against Orlando. You can bet the Warriors will play a whole lot better than they did Sunday. The game will soon look simple again for Golden State.
But Sunday’s slip – so unusual in this charmed season – was a reminder just how difficult what Curry does on a day-in, day-out basis really is.