SAN ANTONIO — Like the rest of them, Stephen Curry said it was a learning experience.
So is dropping an anvil on your toe, but just because you claim it won’t happen again doesn’t stop you from hopping around on one foot.
If the Warriors are truly going to take the next step forward in their education and development, they will have to stop letting leads slip like fistfuls of jelly through their fingers and to learn about Curry himself — who he is and how his remarkable shooting and scoring talents can best be most effectively used.
While Carmelo Anthony’s shoulder, the Bulls’ hard noses and the above-the-rest offensive capabilities of LeBron James and Kevin Durant are headlines, the splendid splinter Curry has been the transcendent story of these playoffs. He’s the reason to stay up late, the reason to keep hitting “reverse” on the DVR just so you can re-watch another ridiculous 3-pointer and try to figure out how he did that.
Curry’s 44-point, 11-assist virtuoso effort in Game 1 seemed to push at the limit of what is possible only because he hasn’t played his next game. Yet at the end of the double-overtime classic, the numbers that mattered were 129-127 — the final score in favor of the Spurs and the 57 minutes and 56 seconds that he logged in a 58-minute game.
“We’re not gonna get discouraged at all,” Curry said. “It’s not going to be a depressed locker room. We’re excited about how we played considering the finish and looking forward to (Game 2).”
But before the Warriors fly hungrily toward the opening tip and try to pounce with another fireball of youth and energy at the start, there has to be more consideration in planning for the finish.
It is tempting (and probably necessary) to milk every last drop they can out of Curry in order to defeat a team as talented, deep and experienced as the Spurs. But as much as Curry lit the fuse to the Warriors’ explosive opening-game performance, he was unable to deliver when they needed him to close out the game.
In that fateful, fitful last 4:31 of the fourth quarter and the two overtime periods, Curry made just 2 of 9 shots.
In his postgame news conference, Curry said “his legs weren’t there” and he was “trying to get a second wind.”
Following Tuesday’s practice, he sat on the courtside press table and at times stared off into the distance, trying to recall the finish.
“It felt like a blur almost because it was one of those situations where every play that they made, it was like, ‘OK, we still have an 8-point, still have a 10-point lead, a 6-point lead,’ ” Curry said. “Less than a minute left and we’re still in control and it comes down to that last possession and Danny Green hits a 3 and like, dang, we got to win in overtime. Then we don’t get it done in overtime.”
Warriors coach Mark Jackson will not give in to the notion that his star player was simply gassed. Of course, he cannot afford to make that admission because of what Curry means to his team. Yet the numbers show an accommodation is needed to spread out Curry’s contributions and more out of him in the clutch.
Through the first seven games of the playoffs, Curry Time has become the third quarter.
The stats show him making 32 of 46 (.696) shots from the field, 17 of 26 (.653) on treys and averaging 12.2 points in the third quarters. During the other three quarters of the games, he has made 37 of 98 (.377) on FGs, 12 of 40 (.300) on 3-pointers and averaging 14.8 points.
Curry poured in 22 of his 44 points in the third quarter alone in Game 1 and then scored only four points in the final 15:34, which included both overtimes.
“So you think I should get 22 every quarter?” he asked with a chuckle when the issue was raised.
Yet it is a puzzle that must somehow be put together and everybody in a Warriors uniform knows that Curry is the key piece.
At this point, can Jackson map out a strict schedule that puts Curry on the bench for specific rest periods each quarter? That hardly seems sensible when he is capable of going on such tears.
Can Jackson get more out of Curry down the stretch by putting the ball into his hands and letting him initiate the offense? That is not likely to happen since Jarrett Jack has been the late-game playmaker for Golden State all season.
It’s a problem that wouldn’t be front and center if the Warriors had made one more bucket, one more defensive stop at the end of Game 1. But it is standing there all alone in the spotlight because Game 1 could have been the opportunity to turn the series on its head.
“Look, nobody has expected us to do anything all season,” said center Andrew Bogut. “There’s a lot of bandwagon jumping and criticism going on now. You can’t come in at this point and say there’s something wrong with the way we play, there’s something wrong with what our coach is doing. Our coach is one of the main reasons we’re here. Steph will play, our coach will coach. They’ll figure it out.”
That’s what you do with a learning experience, especially one that hurts.