LOS ANGELES — Maybe they’ll never lose again. OK, they will, but it was hard to relinquish that fantasy late Thursday night as Andre Iguodala literally bowed to Stephen Curry at midcourt while a numb crowd filled with celebrities just stared and marveled. The Warriors had just shamed their blood rivals — and the coach who said they were lucky to win a championship — by erasing a 23-point deficit and winning their 13th straight game to open the season.
And as they did, they triggered some crazy thoughts that somehow seemed sane: If the Warriors could survive this rather shoddy performance, when they committed 19 turnovers and let Chris Paul hurt them early while Curry was playing so skittishly that his teammates were razzing him, why not wonder if they can start 16-0, 20-0, Rest of the Calendar Year-0?
As well as wonder if they can win 70 games … or 72 games … or more?
Consider it the one time when it’s acceptable to get carried away. Curry and his team have that delusional effect on us.
In what Hollywood now should be calling The Stephnomenon, the Best Show In Sports created another spectacular, mind-blowing experience, one that left even Curry shaking his head after a 124-117 victory over the more- pathetic-than-ever Clippers. The beauty of this team, and this dynamo, is that they’ve completely forgotten how to lose, shooting 73 percent in the fourth quarter, including 8 of 9 from beyond the three-point arc, and exploding on a 22-5 run that left Doc (Mr. Lucky) Rivers in shock and the Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer, in what appeared to be tears. Would Ballmer like to return to the Microsoft boardroom, where life was much easier?
As for Jay-Z, Derek Jeter, Floyd Mayweather and other famous people who wanted to see what all the fuss was about, they were left to applaud and shake their heads, too, not only about Curry but about Iguodala and his big shots, followed by various shimmies and a Michael Jordan-like shrug, and about Harrison Barnes, who carried the Warriors while Curry was struggling in the fourth quarter, and about Klay Thompson, who shook off his continuing back issues to hit the three that completed the comeback. When Curry finally stopped throwing the ball away — how many times did Paul bilk him? — and hit a three with 1:47 left, then four free throws in the final 40 seconds, that’s when half the Staples Center crowd headed to the exits and the other half emitted various shrieks and OMGs about what they’d just seen.
“We’re writing a new story this year,” said Curry, who ended an erratic night with 40 points and seven turnovers, several in a weird stretch midway through the fourth. “We’re a confident basketball team. No matter how bad we’re playing, we know we have a shot to win. We’ve got to enjoy the process. We’re going to be ugly some days, pretty some days.”
But in the end, these are winning days every time. And they still haven’t lost since June, with the possibility now probable that they’ll establish the mark for the NBA’s best start on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena against — wait for it — the Lakers. Consider it a good way to remind Kobe Bryant that it’s time to retire. At some point, the Warriors will lose a game, maybe in a offbeat place against an improving team like Phoenix or Utah, or to LeBron James on Christmas Day. But at the moment, nothing is stopping the Warriors — not the absence of their head coach or threats of boredom or complacency. This is the best story in American sports right now, and it’s shocking when tickets are available. They weren’t in L.A.
“I’m not surprised that we were able to hang in,” said Draymond Green, who gestured to courtside fans after hitting a huge three. “We just continued to fight, and even when they were hitting everything, it still never felt like they were just controlling the game. When it’s like that, you’ve got a shot at winning. Just stay the course.”
All the while, Curry is focusing more on what he’s doing wrong, which isn’t much, than what he’s doing right, which is everything. “I made three or four turnovers there, and they easily could have taken over the game,” Curry said. “I’ve got to be better than I was tonight. The stats look good, but I hold myself to a higher standard. My teammates got on me and told me to get it together. I think we did that later in the fourth quarter.”
They did enough to enjoy it — until tonight, when Chicago comes to town. “Obviously, you don’t get a trophy for it, but it’s just a nice story line and a nice way to start the season,” Curry said. “We want to enjoy this.”
As put well by TNT’s Reggie Miller, a known trash-talker, this was “not a good look” for the Clippers. They’ve spent a lot of time through the years fighting and wrestling and taking verbal and physical shots at the Warriors, only to succumb a year ago with a feeble postseason. Now, when they finally seemed to be having a fine night, they choked. Yes, that’s the only word for it. Blake Griffin, who also looked great early with spectacular fallaway jumpers and led the charge to a 50-27 lead early in the second quarter, went 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter and stepped out of bounds on a key possession. Paul and Griffin went 2 for 10 in the fourth. Fortunately for them, it already was Friday in two American time zones during their collapse, so not as many people witnessed their collapse as could have. But they will hear about it. For it was ugly.
“They have the upper hand. They’re the better team,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to get where they are.”
Then he conceded the obvious: “You all want to say it’s a rivalry. I wouldn’t say that’s really a rivalry.”
Not when it’s this one-sided.
“We’ve got to find a way to win that game, and that’s on me,” Paul said.
When Curry speaks of being “hungry,” the world has no idea how literally he means it. The dumbest offseason tactic any opponent could have taken was to criticize him, because with little more than a nod and a brief comment after every slight, he has quieted everyone with an all-time blitz that shows no evidence of slowing down. “I think Steph is probably on his way to become the first to be MVP and Most Improved at the same time,” said Barnes, whose face was straight, as it should have been.
It’s easy to machine-gun-emote the dazzling superlatives about Curry, but the flash can’t happen without the two simplest words in the training handbook: work ethic. Fans arriving early at Staples gravitated to courtside, where Curry was alone 90 minutes before tipoff, firing jumpshots from every spot and angle. This has been his routine for years, but only now are they catching on in places like Hollywood. Same with the rest of the country, with talk shows sometimes more interested in talking to me about Colin Kaepernick or Stanford football than NBA history. Is it because Curry has not a drop of controversy in his DNA, heavy as he is into his faith and the last guy who would be attached to a Kardashian? Khloe, girlfriend of James Harden, was being blamed Thursday by Kevin McHale’s wife for her husband’s dismissal as Houston Rockets coach. Curry? By no doing of his, he was intercepted by Al Gore on the way to shootaround. The fact Steph kept his hoodie top on during their chat, by the team bus, said it all.
Don’t bother the man. He’s always working.
“Right now, the way we’re playing and the way we’re focused, it talks about how hungry we are,” Curry said. “We’re staying in the moment, too. That’s the biggest thing. Each game is different. Each game, we’re finding different ways to win. We don’t want to jump ahead to April thinking, ‘All right, we’re [undefeated] now, we’ll have everything put together come the playoffs.’ That isn’t the case. We have to worry about what’s going on now, how we play night in and night out.
“Our goal is to celebrate again in June.”
The NBA understands the magnitude of what is happening. Even the Clippers, through gritted teeth, are paying homage to a team that blew past them on Title Highway because of better maturity, management, coaching and cohesion. Griffin, whose bad-boy involvement in this rivalry has ranged from wrestling with Green to shouting in back hallways to “accidentally” tossing water on Warriors fans, respects their ability to stonewall outside distractions.
“You have to respect what they’re doing, and the way they’ve gone about it,” Griffin said. “The best way I can describe it is clutter-free basketball. They don’t have any hang-ups. That’s the way it has to be done.”
Clutter-free basketball. No hangups.
Describes Curry, doesn’t it? As the Clippers show us the very definition of cluttered minds.
The biggest tribute yet came from James, who tried to motivate a Cleveland team playing “half-ass” basketball, in his opinion, by praising the Champs. Said James: “We haven’t done anything. We didn’t win anything]. We lost. We lost in the Finals. So that’s enough motivation for myself. … And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are.”
And devouring every meal.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.