LOS ANGELES -- The world occasionally bears witness to rare phenomena: snowfall in early summer, the total solar eclipse, and yes, a pair of all-time great shooters who share three Kia MVPs hitting nothing but rim in a not-quite-24-hour span across two series.
Saturday in Salt Lake City, James Harden missed his first 15 shots. Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, Stephen Curry doinked all but one of his nine 3-point attempts. Did someone misalign their moons?
Curry nearly drowned in misfires, no matter how open he was left by the LA Clippers. Yet, just as Harden’s team discovered a night earlier, it didn’t alter the eventual outcome.
Yes, ultimately it was all about the Clippers falling even if Curry’s shots didn’t. That means all was well with the Warriors after a 113-105 Game 4 victory that moved them closer to an anticipated Western Conference semifinals series with Harden and the Houston Rockets.
This is the luxury the Warriors enjoy, that even an off-night by one All-Star -- or All-NBA -- player can be compartmentalized by others, in this case Kevin Durant (33 points) and Klay Thompson (32). But this is nothing new for the Warriors in this dynastic era, where “Strength In Numbers” is a team slogan (and bad news for the rest of the league).
Curry watched the Rockets-Jazz game, in which Harden, the league’s leading regular-season scorer at 36.3 ppg, couldn't break through until the final quarter. The Rockets astonishingly kept the game close before the basketball gods finally bestowed mercy on Harden and released the handcuffs on his wrists. He and the Rockets are now one win from moving on.
“I like what [Harden] said afterward -- it’s all about winning,” Curry said. “Whether you have it going or not, whether you see the ball going in or not, you still have to stay engaged and obviously this is a team game. You have to have everyone contribute. You really don’t care about who’s night it is.”
That sounds nice in theory and though there is some truth, the reality is only a handful of NBA teams can play this “team game” of which Curry speaks about, these few who are blessed with multiple stars who can cover for each other.
How many can watch their franchise player go 3-for-14, as Curry did Sunday, then yawn and simply throw the ball to Durant? Or Thompson? Again, this is what makes the Warriors the Warriors.
While his fellow Splash Brother was busy building homes, Thompson ripped through the poor Clippers with 27 in the first half, making his first seven shots. Then Durant picked his spots to chip in, and suddenly the level of angst dropped considerably.
Curry had a good feeling about Thompson when he saw his teammate return to the team hotel Saturday in typical Thompson fashion.
“He walked into the hotel with a wet T-shirt with his shades on,” Curry said. “Typical Klay vibe. I knew what that meant. Nice for him to show out like he did. We needed every bit of it.”
If you survey the playoff landscape, you wonder if anyone can offset this many weapons in the fight. How about the Bucks and their singular force, Giannis Antetokoumnpo? Can they win a game, or even two, if he disappears offensively? How about the Philadelphia 76ers or the Toronto Raptors or the Boston Celtics going far with their top gun going cold?
Should the Warriors and Rockets meet, we're set for an interesting scenario over the weekend. Because of the considerable gap between Harden’s ability to get buckets and the next leading scorer on the Rockets, Chris Paul, the Rockets will lean heavily on Harden to drop at least 30, or else.
The Warriors have no such worry unless two stars are suffering in the same game, and how unusual would that be, if, say Durant and Curry are brothers in misery?
Even if one of them goes cold, what are the chances of it happening to that same player in the same series, or even the next game?
You just try to be as patient as possible, knowing that it’ll come around eventually. You still have to be a threat out there, be aggressive and stand out on the floor and make the right plays."
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said: “Guys sometimes have a huge night, sometimes they struggle, but the great players like Steph, Kevin and Klay, they bounce back pretty quickly from tough shooting nights.”
Don’t be surprised if Curry closes out the Clippers with a ballistic Game 5 on Wednesday. Matter of fact, be shocked if it doesn’t happen, considering his history and his pattern.
“It’s basketball, you can’t get too high or low,” Curry said. “The numbers don’t look good but it’s timing and making the right decisions and being a threat until something opens up. You like to have a game where things might not be going your way but you’re still impacting the game in some way or another.”
True enough, because Curry is much more than a shooter; his court vision can bail him out when the shot’s not falling. Curry racked up seven assists and also added 10 rebounds Sunday, a productive night despite the missed shots.
“You can’t get down and let that energy affect you,” he said. “You have to make some tough shots. I got 14 shots and 11 were solid ones. I forced up three of them and I know that because I think about those positions and I want them back. You just try to be as patient as possible, knowing that it’ll come around eventually. You still have to be a threat out there, be aggressive and stand out on the floor and make the right plays. Play great defense, not turn the ball over, just play hard.”
Curry will be fine and the Warriors didn’t miss his shot much on Sunday, anyway. It helped that the Clippers, bless their hard-working souls, lack the superstar needed to take advantage of these situations in the playoffs. All roads point to the second round and another round with the Houston team that took the Warriors to the seven-game limit last spring.
It’s a series where the Rockets might pay the price this time if Harden rolls another 3-for-20.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here .
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