SALT LAKE CITY — If anybody in this overmatched, tyrannized, Warriors-numb league could do anything about it, yeah, people would be getting mad about now. Steph Curry continues to talk mammoth numbers — first dropping the almighty 33-0 last week, then suggesting the Dubs and his hometown NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, both could be undefeated heading into the Super Bowl in early February.
That would make them a collective 50-0, or something like that. And he’d definitely be going to the game in Santa Clara, too, regardless of where he might be needed that day.
But until an opponent shuts them up — and puts an end to the crazy and cheeky gestures on the bench, with everyone arm-rubbing and dabbing and wiggling their right wrists when shots are splashing on the court — then the Warriors can damn well say and do as they please. They’re now 19-0, with 23 consecutive regular-season victories since April, after surviving the best shot of the Utah Jazz on a Monday night when the Warriors at times were as cold as the temperatures outside. The 106-103 win came with stress and difficulty: 15 turnovers, no Harrison Barnes until further notice and his sprained ankle is better, an early technical-foul meltdown by Andre Iguodala (zero shots in 26 minutes) and a 9-for-20 shooting night by Curry. The Jazz returned from an 11-point hole to assume the lead midway through the fourth quarter, then were in position to win when Derrick Favors muscled for a basket inside, drew a foul, made the free throw and gave Utah a 99-97 lead with 1:45 left.
Not since, I don’t know, the 1998 NBA Finals has the downtown arena with the ever-changing name rocked so wildly. But there to quiet everyone down was, oh, Curry, who hit an immediate jumper over Favors. Then there was, oh, Curry, to steal an errant pass. He missed a shot, but in the magnificent rebound that you’ll be talking about today at the office, Draymond Green positioned his big body, withstood the swooping charge of 7-1 Rudy Gobert, grabbed the ball, put up the shot successfully, screamed, pounded his chest three times and gave the Warriors a lead they didn’t relinquish. It was, oh, Curry, who hit the clinching stepback three-pointer with 51.9 seconds left when Rodney Hood sagged off him too far, which Mike Krzyzewski should have instructed Hood not to do at Duke — the same Mike Krzyzewski who didn’t recruit Curry to his program but will love coaching him in Rio at the Olympics.
Nineteen down, 31 to go before 50 at SB 50.
“Just because we’re 19-0 now doesn’t mean we get to show up and blow teams out or guarantee a win. We have to actually do something about it,” Curry said by his locker in a media-cramped locker room. “We knew it was going to be a tough-it-out game, especially against a team like that that has been together for a couple of years and wigh the atmosphere in the building.”
Dressing beside him was Green, who couldn’t stop laughing about an inside joke he shared with Curry in the shower. The rebound? “At the end of the day, it boils down to who wants it,” Green said. “I had good position on Favors, then Gobert came flying out of nowhere. I just wanted the ball more.”
If the enemy intensity and hostile crowd — mixed in with some cheers for the Warriors, an increasing phenomenon — is an indication of what’s coming the next six games on this road trip, are the Warriors doomed to lose at some point? Luke Walton, who says Steve Kerr should be NBA Coach of the Month, says they will lose at some point. Even Curry says they will lose at some point. But when?
“I think [the streak] just adds pressure. It makes other teams want to beat us that much more, to be the first one to end the streak,” Walton said. “We have guys that embrace pressure and they seem to play better and sharper with more pressure and the bigger stage.”
Curry did clank a jumper with 16 seconds left, giving Utah one last chance to force overtime. Hood missed a three with five seconds left.
“Great intensity. That’s pretty much the norm now with everybody we play,” Green said. “Everyone is used to us beating teams by 20. When we have a close game, then they’re surprised. We know it’s going to happen. But I think we responded well.”
The Jazz were chirping a bit before the game, smelling a chance to halt history. “We’ve got a great opportunity before ourselves here,” Gordon Hayward said. “The Warriors are a historically great team. We get a chance to end their streak at home in front of our fans.”
“It’s exciting,” Trevor Booker said. “No pressure on us.”
A reserve forward, Joe Ingles, took it a step further. When asked if he’s the Curry of his native Australia, the wise-cracking Ingles said, “Obviously, he’s the Joe Ingles of America.” How cute to see Curry and Klay Thompson drill successive threes over Ingles in the third quarter.
More verbal shots will be coming. Maybe some physical shots, too. The media swarm, which will increase as the win streak stretches, also is starting to bug the players. Andrew Bogut, who fouled out, emerged from the shower and said, without a smile, “Fire hazard. Too many people.”
“Gonna have to get out of the way,” Mo Speights said.
Said longtime team broadcaster Jim Barnett: “Jiminy Christmas, how many people are in here?”
Wait until New York on Sunday, gentlemen. The Golden State Warriors, once a basketball punchline, are the hottest ongoing sports story in America. Whether the number is 19, 23, 33, 50 or 72, everyone wants to write, talk, blog, tweet and podcast about this team. Walton is a bit worried about focus, and don’t be surprised if Kerr shows up on the trip at some point, though not in mass-public view.
“It can be a distraction,” Walton said the other day. “The 72-win thing is far, far away, and we shouldn’t be spending any time thinking about that. There is going to be a night where we just don’t make any of our shots down the stretch and another team gets hot and that is going to happen. That’s the way it is in this league, but it’s nice that it hasn’t happened yet.”
Next up is Charlotte, which could be a distraction for Curry if he weren’t more likely to flip the challenge into a family celebration. He’s going home, this time as a conquering sports hero, reigning league MVP and undefeated dynamo. He’ll watch his alma mater, Davidson, play tonight, then watch as his father, Dell, is honored by the Hornets before and during the Warriors-Hornets game on Wednesday night.
“Your family, all the hoopla around the game — I’ll look at the Jumbotron at how they honor my dad,” said Curry, beaming. “It’s going to be a really cool experience, something to remember. My dad played 10 great years there, as the last original Hornet, and that city and that organization mean a lot to him. It’ll be a fun night.
“But,” he said, “I hope we spoil the ending.”
Of course, he does. And with Hornets owner Michael Jordan sitting a few feet away, the same Michael Jordan whose Chicago Bulls once won 72 games in a season, the record Curry would like to one-up after he’s finished toppling all these other numbers.
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.