SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Seated at his locker, right shoulder marked up with scratches resembling tire tracks, Stephen Curry accepted responsibility Saturday night for a ragged performance.
“I didn’t allow us to get comfortable offensively,” he said by way of assessment. Though wounded in appearance, he wasn’t in manner. He was optimistic about the Golden State Warriors' future versus their winningest foe, saying, “They made some adjustments from the first game and I like where we’re at.”
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Warriors 87-79 in a game that evoked “playoff basketball,” both in its intensity and lack of fluidity. Usually, Curry can be counted on to rise above the muck, to shoot over even the most convoluted and arrhythmic of basketball situations. When the Warriors struggle, he’s often what bails them out, as he did repeatedly on their first road trip after the All-Star break.
Saturday night’s hyped matchup was the inverse of that typical relationship. The Warriors played well enough, save for the superstar they needed. Curry shot 4-of-18 for 14 points, and looked off from the beginning.
The Spurs should be credited for not allowing Curry comfort, even if he did miss a few shots that usually go down. Coach Gregg Popovich made savvy adjustments, countering Golden State’s small ball with skilled battering ram Boris Diaw starting in place of Tim Duncan. Harrison Barnes did his best to contain “Bobo,” but Diaw’s play delivered San Antonio some early separation.
A bigger adjustment was in how the Spurs guarded Curry. “They picked him up really high out,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr explained. “He missed some shots he normally makes, but he also had to take some tough ones.” Not only did a guard reach Curry early, but a big often pushed up high to greet the reigning MVP. In general, the Spurs flooded Curry at the perimeter, effectively containing him. Danny Green was fantastic defensively, but so were the Spurs as a unit, seamlessly switching to track Curry off the ball.
If Curry could replay the game, it seems he would have gone downhill against some of this attention.
“The biggest thing tonight was, we were trying to exploit that spacing by shooting a bunch of perimeter shots,” Curry said. “That’s fine if they’re going in. But you know right away, missed my first three or so, struggled a little bit in that first quarter. You gotta be able to attack the basket a little bit more.”
Though a discombobulated Curry is a reliable shorthand for “Warriors loss,” there were other factors. Klay Thompson was 1-of-7 from deep and 7-of-20 overall for 15 points. While Golden State was stout defensively (especially Shaun Livingston, who’s been a terror on the perimeter), LaMarcus Aldridge finally found daylight against Draymond Green, and the Warriors ceded 14 offensive rebounds, a few of which were crucial.
Despite all that and possibly because of it, the Warriors weren’t disappointed in their own effort. “We hung in there, right till the end,” Kerr said. “Wasn’t our night, Spurs played great, they deserved to win, but I’m really, really proud of the way we fought tonight. It was awesome.”
While the result was hardly “awesome,” Golden State prides itself on being process-focused. Kerr will rip the team after certain wins, praise it after certain losses.
His team was certainly more frustrated than dejected in the aftermath of this particular loss -- maybe with a smirk. On the rare occasions when Golden State loses, its players will joke about overheated reactions and muse about stories that seek meaning in the defeat. When you’re the Warriors, losses aren’t just discrete events that occasionally happen to teams. Losses are regarded as a possible “blueprint,” a glimmer of hope for those looking to subvert a narrative of inevitability.
Saturday night was a reminder that the Warriors have imperfections, that they can be chased into off-nights. Though Curry often brings about a deus-ex-machina resolution to games, he’s occasionally susceptible to bouts of humanity. Maybe the Spurs have discovered the answer; maybe they’ve solved a riddle that eludes the league. Or this game is just part of a conversation between these teams, a back-and-forth that’s only just beginning.