OAKLAND, Calif. — The longest minutes in Oracle are the ones Stephen Curry spends on the bench, and the shortest seconds are those between the release of his shots and the inevitable swish.
The reigning MVP and his reigning champs encountered their first serious on-court test of the season Wednesday, down 10 in the fourth quarter to the Clippers after squandering a 17-point lead. Interim Warriors coach Luke Walton looked a little slow on the trigger: first when he needed to stop the bleeding and then when it came to getting Curry back into the game. But that stretch with L.A. leading—powered by Josh Smith hitting a three and Blake Griffin knocking down jumpers on his way to 23 points—was erased with Golden State’s latest round of late-game magic.
After four easy double-digit victories to open the season, the Warriors responded to the deficit, and the loose play that caused it, with pump-action offense and death-grip defense. Harrison Barnes ran off 10 straight points for Golden State in just 93 seconds to cut the Clippers’ lead to one midway through the period. Then Curry, who battled early foul trouble, took the Warriors home to a 112–108 victory, swishing four straight jumpers down the stretch, raising his arms to the ceiling and then dancing like a horse as he went.
“It was good for us to feel a little bit of adversity against a team like that,” said Curry, who finished with a game-high 31 points, five rebounds and four assists while hitting seven of his 11 three-point attempts. “We won’t blow everybody out this year and we answered the bell. … We’ve been through this before.”
Curry’s latest scoring binge—13 straight points for Golden State in the final period—saw him leave DeAndre Jordan for dead with a series of crossovers before he pulled up for a left angle three with a little over five minutes left. It saw him step out behind a high screen for a deep three from near the top with just under five minutes left, and it saw him hit a quick-trigger, pull-up three with about a minute to go.
“You don’t get better than that,” Walton gushed. “He was shooting deep threes with players draped all over him. He showed why he’s the MVP.”
All three were shake-your-head shots, but the one that haunted Clippers coach Doc Rivers was a pretty catch-and-shoot corner jumper that snapped a 103–103 tie with just under three minutes to go.
Curry set up as a screener on the right block as Klay Thompson circled around him and prepared to break free. Then, in a screen-the-screener twist, Curry looped off of Thompson and broke hard toward the left corner. L.A. momentarily lost track of him as Andre Iguodala prepared to fire a hard pass to the corner. J.J. Redick attempted to step into the passing lane but a Green screen bumped him off path. Curry caught the pass cleanly, and the make-you-pay jumper concluded in inevitable fashion over a late Jordan.
Rivers lamented the “gameplan mistake” of losing Curry, noting with a dose of disbelief that the merry-go-round play was designed by former Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry, who spent last season with the Warriors.
“The biggest play of the game was literally our play that Alvin Gentry gave to them,” Rivers said. “We talked about it. To see Curry wide open in the corner was disheartening for us. That’s the difference. It was a heck of a basketball game.”
Golden State closed with its soul-crushing small lineup—Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green—and the group outscored L.A. 25–13 in the final eight minutes. The Clippers’ offense faltered as Green stepped out to contest a Chris Paul three-pointer, Iguodala hit the deck to fluster Griffin, and the Warriors smartly used their fouls to prevent layups and dunks, forcing the Clippers to the line, where they went just 3 for 8 in the final period.
By the end, Paul, who finished with 24 points and nine assists but scored just four points after halftime, was forced to watch his third straight loss to Curry from the sideline as he nursed a minor groin injury.
“That’s a classic way to finish a game at home,” Curry said, praising Golden State’s “championship level” defense down the stretch. “We’re better than we were last year. We’re just more composed.”
The lasting sense from Round One between these bitter rivals is that not much has drastically changed from last season, when the Warriors won the season series 3–1 and Curry overtook Paul as the league’s top point guard. Rivers still doesn’t quite have a go-to five-man unit to match Golden State’s closing lineup, Curry can still consistently find just enough space to launch his back-breaking shots, and the Warriors’ roster, top to bottom, is still more cohesive and balanced.
This Clippers core knows a thing or two about repeatedly running into walls it can’t quite scale, and Rivers’s team leaves Oakland without any interest in moral victories or positive spin.
“[This game] would have been encouraging if we won,” Redick said. “We’re not the Bad News Bears. We are a team that has championship aspirations and for us to [be encouraged] we have to win.”
By now the Clippers know that Curry only needs a step or a sliver to ruin their nights.