SAN FRANCISCO – Frustration was boiling within Stephen Curry. Until he comes to the surface. Until he let out a roar. Until he ripped his jersey from the collar to the 30th.
He had scored 46 points on 35 shots, benefiting from only three free throws in 43 minutes. He made the tying layup at the end of regulation time. In the final minute of the first overtime, he forced a turnover, then hit a huge corner 3, setting up Klay Thompson’s game-tying 3 that kept the Warriors alive. Then, in the second overtime, Curry’s final points of the night came on a 26-footer from the top with 4.7 seconds left, giving the Warriors a point.
He left his tracking in the air as he reversed. Spent too much on a more elaborate celebration. The NBA’s leader in clutch points delivered 19 more in this double-overtime affair, including 10 in the second overtime. Most nights, that would have been enough.
MOM, HERE IS THIS MAN ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/KsIABjnkfV
– Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 28, 2024
But on the other team was Curry’s partner in magnificence. His most validating and most valiant enemy. LeBron James. They exchanged heartaches and hugs over the years. James, whose Lakers knocked Curry’s Warriors out of the playoffs last year, had even more heartache to inflict on Curry.
James, 39, beat a rookie nearly half his age on the dribble, passed another sharp young athlete and launched into a powerful attack at the rim. He made the mistake and, punctuating his spectacular evening, made two free throws to give the Lakers victory, 145-144. James’ 36 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists in nearly 48 minutes indicted his birth certificate for fraud.
They’re not winning as usual, both needing everything they have to stay in the race, both hoping to find crucial help to lead them back to the realm of contenders. But on Saturday, Curry and LeBron showed that they are still captivating. It will be a decade next February since LeBron’s trio against the Warriors at Oracle in Oakland kicked off the celebration of “The Silencer” and propelled this duo into must-see theater. All these years later, when they share a court, it remains the best theater in the NBA.
“It’s something you’ll really appreciate when you’re done playing,” LeBron James said during his on-court interview, “and can watch it with your grandkids and say I played against the one of the best players of all time.” play this game. Steph, after the game, came up to me and said, “How does this keep getting better?” How can we continue to improve? I think it’s just a true testament to our work in the game, our loyalty to the game, and the game continues to give back to us.
James and D’Angelo Russell ensured that another close game went into the hands of the Warriors. But this time, it wasn’t so much about what the Warriors didn’t do. This loss was not due to a stunning turnover, as was the heartbreaking loss to Sacramento two nights earlier. Or a questionable coaching decision. Or because they collapsed in the face of an assault. Or even because of missed shots.
Yet one of their best efforts only counts as a near-victory. A tease. The Warriors are now 15-13 in decisive games with Curry (0-4 without him). They are five games under .500 and are still on the outside of the playoff field. They can play as well as anyone, but don’t win as often as the best teams.
“Throughout our season,” Curry said, “we’ve had some tough times, some self-inflicted wounds. Some games you obviously should have won and there’s disappointment in leaving the field. … We We got beat all the way. We stayed there even when things weren’t going our way, we gave ourselves an opportunity. It came down to the last possession three or four times in regulation, both in overtime. It just shows that we really want it, we’re playing with a little bit of desperation trying to change the course of our season and we just have nothing to show for it right now.
But their peak is still high enough to get drunk. Saturday was a gallery of their best.
Curry, obviously. Draymond Green was the difference he always was, on both ends, and the combustible will that often burned him this night kept the Warriors shooting. Thompson was vintage in the second half after a brutal first half. His defense on LeBron, his shots, his competitive spirit. Jonathan Kuminga was ready and impactful. His 22 points and nine rebounds in 43 minutes showed he could play at this level. He should even have a more important role in the offense.
Head coach Steve Kerr is certain a run is coming. His warriors are ready for a breakthrough. They have one more game at home, against Philadelphia, before a road trip that begins with three losing teams.
This is only possible if the Warriors’ resolve is stronger than their jersey fabric.
“Our guys have been amazing, they’ve been amazing,” Kerr said. “The way they fought and competed and stayed in the game. I’ve done so many pieces. I just felt like we deserved to win that game the way the guys fought. So many games that could have gone one way or the other. It felt like a game we deserved to win. As long as we continue to play like we did tonight, I think we’ll turn things around and have a great season. I really believe it.
The Lakers are in the same situation, although a little closer to where they want to be than the Warriors thanks to a more stable foundation with James and an elite version of Anthony Davis. Their best also seems worthy. The Warriors seem to be bringing that out to them.
But giving the best of themselves in moments, in matches, is not their problem. It’s sustainability. It’s the consistency and versatility of their greatness that’s lacking. They can’t do that every night. They don’t seem to be able to invoke it in many ways.
The Lakers and the Warriors.
Saturday conspired to evoke the greatness of both teams. A prime time game. An element of great importance for the two intermediate teams. The presence of the Hall of Fame all over the floor. The appreciation of the scene, of the moment, and of still being there.
They delivered a thriller. They lived up to their name. On several occasions, Curry took charge and performed like a superstar. But tonight, LeBron James had the ball last.
So Curry left the field, overwhelmed with frustration. With his jersey in his hands.
“If anything, it just makes it worse,” Curry said. “Successes, failures or whatever, there is an energy in what we are trying to do. The good news is that if we can continue on this path, you’d like to think that you could create some momentum, and that’s what we’re hoping for. But it’s just back-to-back tough games at home where you play well enough to win and just don’t get it done.
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(Top photo of LeBron James and Stephen Curry after Saturday’s game: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)