That was Draymond Green, ha ha, strutting downcourt and laughing as the roars tumbled down. That was the tantrum-thrower, gathering a ball that Andrew Bogut had saved on one foot and, in one motion, heaving it from the right sideline and into the basket for the winning shot. That was the profanity-spewer himself, three nights after reportedly calling his coach a “Mother (bleeper)” to his face, saving the game for the Warriors.
And that was Steve Kerr, waiting for Green as he walked off the court after the 109-105 overtime win over Atlanta. What did his coach say?
“He said, ‘Hell of a game. You’re a bad bleep.’ He did,” relayed Green, still laughing.
On a long, arduous evening when the world was reminded why Steph Curry will be the NBA’s repeat Most Valuable Player, while he sat on the bench in his black blazer resting his sore left ankle, his teammates managed to win without him and Andre Iguodala. This was a character-honing victory in which Green, who earns mulligans for misbehavior because of his on-court intelligence and fiery leadership, played the point in Curry’s absence, called offensive plays and, with 40.2 seconds left in the extra period, nailed the crazy 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. It gave the Warriors their 43rd consecutive regular-season home victory, leaving them one short of the same Michael Jordan Bulls whom they’re chasing for larger rewards.
How funny, a 3-pointer. The topic is what landed Green in trouble during his halftime tirade in Oklahoma City, when he screamed at Kerr, said he felt like a robot and threatened to not shoot again. He’d missed 12 of his previous 13 long-range attempts, and this one wasn’t supposed to go in, either. “It wasn’t athletic. I teed that one up,” he said. “That was desperation, but to hit one in that moment means a lot.”
So all is well again with the Champs, not that it ever wasn’t well. They proved as resilient behind the scenes as they were on the court without Curry and Iguodala, who sat with a tight hamstring. “I told the guys, ‘25 or 30 shots are available. Steph’s not playing,’” Kerr said. Klay Thompson took 27 of them and made only eight, but he hit the last one, a baseline fadeaway off a pump fake that iced the game. Andrew Bogut had a big game with 19 points, and Mo Speights had two critical treys. But it was Green’s night, as Curry cheered him on.
“I just came and played hard for my team,” Green said. “I wasn’t worried about what people were saying about me and this or that or the other. Guys stepped up.”
“We were down two MVPs,” Thompson said of Curry and Iguodala, the Finals MVP, “and I’m just proud of how everyone contributed.”
Ninety minutes before tipoff, dozens of fans stood by the railing of the tunnel, holding their phones, pressed against each other, waiting. Where was he? Was Steph not coming out to play? They’d come to see his iconic pregame ritual, which now is akin to watching the Pope practice Holy Communion, yet all they were getting were a few Hawks and a scoreboard video of Thompson visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. No swished lobs from the awning? No sweeping ballhandling drills? No high fives with the security guys? No Basketball Jesus?
No Basketball Jesus.
Welcome to the Basic Common Sense portion of the Stephen Curry Experience. When the grandmaster of the Warriors, pro basketball, sports on Earth, Big Merch, the entertainment and advertising worlds and life itself has a balky left ankle — only four years after ankle problems jeopardized his career, forced him to sign a lowball deal and had his parents praying for him in the office of a surgeon who wanted to implant tendons from a cadaver — no, you don’t expose Curry to further complications against a mediocre underachiever in early March.
Rather, you render him a spectator as the Warriors keep winning and pursuing regular-season history without him. Their record is 54-5 now, 2-1 without Curry. Imagine if they mutually achieved two objectives: resting and protecting Curry while winning a record 73 games. Assuming Kerr plays his hand right, saving him for the remaining games in which statements must be made (Spurs, Clippers, Thursday night against the Thunder), he could have his Curry and eat it too.
“Winning 72 or 73 doesn’t mean anything without the prize,” Curry reminds. And the Warriors won’t claim the prize if he has many more scares like the one Saturday night, when Russell Westbrook landed on his foot and crushed the ankle, twisting it grotesquely. Extensive training with the team’s former performance director, Keke Lyles, strengthened the ankles to the point they can withstand severe rollings. But even with sturdier support and specially built sneakers, the ankle concerns never will go away, not when Curry remains a 6-3, 185-pound wisp. As he said of his feelings after the Westbrook collision, “Any time it’s my ankle, I feel that same sensation I had back in the day. It was a little nerve-racking. It was painful.”
So, Kerr sat him. And he should keep sitting Curry strategically — say, in the second games of approaching back-to-backs against Orlando and Phoenix. If Curry misses six or seven games the rest of the way, sure, a DNP might bother a father of two who raided the family savings account and ordered tickets months ago. But unlike Gregg Popovich, who sits players just to rest them in San Antonio, Curry is dealing with a specific injury that has harmed him in the past and could recur and damage his team’s championship hopes if not handled with care. Should the Dubs lose five more games and fall short of one-upping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Bulls, so be it.
Seventy-three wins and no trophy is a failed season.
Sixty-seven wins and a trophy was a revelation last year.
It would be great fun is if the Warriors won 73 while Curry and his teammates were properly recuperating. Not only does a victory like this remind us that they’re damned good without him, it maintains perspective about health trumping regular-season records.
“We’re not going to do anything crazy, obviously,” Kerr said of Curry. “We’ll err on the side of caution.”
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.