He had time, at least two seconds. He had room to dribble, five or 10 more feet. But why in the name of indescribable magnificence would Stephen Curry, who is not from this Earth, wait any longer to shoot the basketball when he can make a layup from the parking lot?
They called it a 32-foot game-winner. It actually was 38.4. Whatevs, right? At this point, we all realize we’re witnessing the unprecedented, one of the magical performers ever in sports and show business, and on an insane sort of Saturday night in Oklahoma City when Draymond Green exploded on his coaches in a profanity-filled halftime tirade, guess who rescued the Warriors from a trouble-in-the-locker-room narrative with another buzzer-beating prayer?
Yep, the miracle worker with the bum left ankle. Curry twisted it grotesquely in a long-forgotten third-quarter collision with Russell Westbrook, who landed and stepped on his foot. But at the time, there was a hush across America, everyone knowing his career almost ended four years ago with weak ankles. That he returned from the locker room only minutes later, reinforced by tape, should surprise no one. Nothing is going to stop Curry, short of a thug move or a moving train, and all these NBA old-timers — you, Oscar Robertson — need to apologize and just shut up when they dismiss him as a mere product of a free-flowing, physicality-banned modern game.
Unless you’re talking Godzilla, no one from the past is stopping him. Unless you’re talking an army with tanks, no one in the now is stopping him. As LeBron James tweeted after the 121-118 overtime masterpiece, “@StephenCurry30 needs to stop it man!! He’s ridiculous man! Never before seen someone like him in the history of ball!” And to think Curry launched his winner with 2.8 seconds left, moving forward in the open court, sensing that Andre Roberson had paused for a nanosecond.
“I had a good rhythm dribbling up, found a good spot and was able to get my feet set and watch it go in,” Curry explained to reporters. “I don’t know exactly where I am. It’s not like I’m calibrating, ‘38 feet, 37, 36.’ You cross halfcourt and want to shoot before the defense closes in. They were kind of shuffling, trying to load up in transition. They didn’t pick up a body.”
They didn’t pick up him.
A celestial body.
Death. Taxes. Steph.
How does anyone possibly defend this vortex? “You guys should ask some of the old-time players. Maybe they have a better idea,” cracked Steve Kerr, on a night when Green inexplicably cracked on him. “All of us new coaches have no idea what we’re doing.”
The haters won’t like it, but Curry proceeded to do more of the same dancing, shimmying, shouting and celebrating, all while Kevin Durant, who had fouled out early in overtime for the first time in three seasons, watched in silence from the Thunder bench in a shocked arena. Think Durant is even more juiced about joining the Warriors in the offseason? My thought has been to not break up this precious core and to do whatever Curry wants, which is to maintain the status quo. But every now and then, you do wonder, such as when Green flips out as only Green can.
ESPN’s Lisa Salters, doing her job as sideline reporter and waiting outside the Warriors’ locker room to confer with coaches, overheard Green lashing into Kerr and the assistants. According to Salters, Green screamed, “I am not a robot. I know I can play, you have me messed up right now. If you don’t want me to shoot, I won’t shoot the rest of the game.” Then, Salters said, Green started “daring people, threatening people, ‘Come sit me down.’ “
Why is Green so angry? Why is he always screaming at officials and verbally taking on opponents — such as Durant on two occasions Saturday — when much of it is unnecessary? There is a marked difference between raw emotion and bizarre behavior, and sometimes, Green is counterproductive. This time, he was disruptive and divisive. Doesn’t he realize he already has won the big game in life, overcoming a humble childhood in a mean Michigan town to sign an $85 million deal, overcoming all the slights (too short, too pudgy) to carve a niche as one of the league’s best defenders and most versatile players? By blowing up, Green surely cost himself a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
If Kerr and general manager Bob Myers don’t nip this madness in the bud, his temper could hurt the Warriors at the absolute wrong time, in May or June.
“Very unusual. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” Kerr told the media. “It’s our private business. You guys can write whatever you want about it.”
I will, then. Curry saved Green’s ass. When Green saw him afterward, he told him, “Why are you shooting from this deep with three seconds left?” What he should have told Curry was, thanks for having my back. And when Green’s mother, Mary, is finished ripping the old-time players on Twitter, she might want to fly out to the Bay Area, grab Dray by the earlobe and give him a good scolding. Unfortunately, she retweeted a comment from a follower who wrote, “If I was to criticize Kerr it’d be he has Draymond thinking too much and not just playing/Reacting.” I’m going to assume Kerr was upset because Green took an ill-advised three-pointer in the first half, his 11th straight miss beyond the arc. If Draymond wants to shoot, he should find another team. His job is to muck it up.
He did keep his head when it mattered, though. He saved the ball from going out of bounds in the final seconds of regulation, leading to Andre Iguodala’s two free throws that forced overtime. He also found Klay Thompson with a beautiful pass for an overtime layup. But not until Curry’s final three-pointer — his 288th this season, breaking his own NBA record, and 12th of the night, which tied the league’s single-game record — was Green saved from himself.
An MVP in more ways than one, Curry protected his teammate. “We’re gonna keep that close to the vest,” he said of the blowup. “We want to win. Everyone wants to play well. Everyone expects greatness. Over the course of a season, we’re gonna have emotion. The beauty of our team is, when we leave the locker room, we’re still united. I think it lit a fire under us.”
Um, the beauty of this team is Wardell Stephen Curry II.
So the Warriors are 53-5, which could be another middle finger to the critics if Curry ever lifted his middle finger. Robertson, a Hall of Famer, says Curry “has shot well because of what’s going on in basketball today.” Isiah Thomas, a Hall of Famer (and small guy like Curry), blames porous perimeter defenses. Then there are the delirious souls, like Stephen Jackson, who says he and the “We Believe” Warriors of 2007 could have beaten this team. Who’s next, Red Klotz in a seance, claiming his Washington Generals were better?
All of which fuels Curry’s motor, of course, as has every slight since his early teens — including the “lucky” tripe of Doc Rivers. Curry called the latest shots “a little annoying” — for him, a screeching headline — and pointed out that the Warriors don’t demean players and teams in bygone eras. Some teammates weren’t as nice, with Andrew Bogut tweeting a sarcastic crack — “My under-14 team in Melbourne would have beat these Warriors. Fat Jimmy would have locked down Stephen Curry!” — before adding Saturday, “They obviously want to get in the media and have their name heard again. I just hope I’m not a bitter old man in my 50s and 60s.”
Leave it to Kerr to provide smart perspective. “A player from any era would be unable to guard Steph Curry. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking about,” he said. “He’s too quick, too skilled, too good.”
And, no, he’s not sorry for dancing. “You kidding me? Anyone in the league would celebrate that play,” Curry said. “I’m not a great dancer, but it’s a pretty cool experience to try and keep setting the bar when shooting the three. I never would have thought I’d be closing in on 300 (for the season). It doesn’t make sense to me.”
At least one old-timer totally gets it. “If @StephenCurry30’s game winning 3-pointer doesn’t prove he’s the greatest shooter we’ve ever seen, I don’t know what will!” tweeted Earvin Johnson, who once was the epitome of magic.
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.