Thompson: Even Steph Curry’s magic isn’t fixing what ails the Warriors

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PHOENIX — When Stephen Curry scores 35 points or more, in regular season or the playoffs, the Warriors are 149-34. That’s a win rate of over 77 percent.

Sixty six times he’s scored at least 40 points. The Warriors won 55 of those, a win percentage of .833.

When he’s scored 50-plus? That’s only happened 11 times, largely because the games tend to be over when he gets up over 40. But the Warriors have three losses when he’s scored 50 or more. Once in February 2013, his career breakout game when he scored 54 at Madison Square Garden. Another time in Dallas, February of 2021, he scored 57 in a barn-burner loss to the Mavericks.

The third time came Wednesday night in Phoenix. He scored 50 points on 17-for-28 shooting, including 7 of 8 from 3. He also had nine rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes. The Warriors still got smashed, 130-119, to fall to 0-8 on the road. The loss to the Suns was just the second time ever Curry scored 40 points or more and the Warriors lost by double digits. The other time came in Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut, and Alfonzo McKinnie filled out the eight-man rotation for the injury-plagued Warriors.

You know something is seriously wrong when the mastery of Curry, which once demoralized opponents, is futile in the pursuit of defeat. Wednesday, even the great Mikal Bridges had no chance of stopping Curry. But the Warriors had even less of a chance of winning.

“It’s not about stats,” Steve Kerr said. “Steph could probably go score 75 If he wanted. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about, ‘Steph played well and nobody else did.’ It’s about the team. It’s about the commitment. What makes basketball special, what makes this team special over the years, the last decade really — and our fans feel it — it’s this combination of joy and competitive desire, and unity, and a purpose. And it’s been beautiful to watch over the years, and beautiful to coach. But that’s lacking right now. That’s lacking. And that’s what our staff has to figure out. That’s what our players have to figure out. That’s what we have to figure out together.”

The youngsters can’t be blamed for this one. This was on the veterans. The Warriors went nine deep in Phoenix. The only player who didn’t have either a championship ring or 10 year of experience was two-way forward Anthony Lamb. The Warriors never built a lead for the second unit to squander. They never stopped the Phoenix offense enough to make a serious threat.

Cameron Payne, the Suns’ backup guard starting in place of Chris Paul, finished with 29 points. He outscored Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole combined when it mattered — though seven points in garbage time by Thompson pushed the Golden State trio’s total to 35 points.

Thompson’s thirst for a big game, along with a first half defending Devin Booker, produced a clunker of a night. He finished with 19 points on 17 shots. His inefficiency wasn’t a problem as much as his aggressiveness outside the flow of the offense. He was a ball-stopper largely, hunting for the rhythm that’s eluded him most of this season.

But Kerr said the quick shots and the lack of offensive execution is part of the problem. It’s all interconnected. Agenda driven basketball, even with the purest of motives, is counter culture for a Warriors franchise so well-versed with winning. The Warriors clearly need Thompson if they’re going to be a contender. But what they need more now is for Thompson to seek the team’s rhythm over his own.

He was far from alone Wednesday.

Wiggins took just nine shots, had two rebounds in 32 minutes, and was a victim of the Suns’ pick-and-roll attack all game.

Draymond Green was minus-19, worst on the team, and could do nothing about the Suns’ scorching offense, which was without two starters. The Warriors’ defense allowed Phoenix to shoot 51.2 percent from the field, including 21 of 40 fro deep.

Jordan Poole followed his 36-point breakout against San Antonio with an 0-for-5 performance. He did have eight assists, but his general passivity on offense is problematic for a team desperate for a playmaker.

JaMychal Green, the newly anointed backup center, missed multiple layups in going 1-for-7 and continued his problems fouling, with four in 17 minutes.

“We’ve got to be honest with ourselves,” Curry said. “It starts individually, everybody coming in with the right mindset of what they feel like will impact winning on both ends or floor. And then collectively, there’s certain parts throughout games where we kind of just get scattered. Where we can get stops, might be taking bad shots, turnovers, whatever the case is, and you lose momentum. And then that leads to teams playing kind of out of their minds against us, more nights than not. Where they make 21 threes, shoot above 50 percent from 3, and they don’t feel this at all. So that stuff on the road. That’s why we’re on eight — because we haven’t really made our presence felt and had a mindfulness about how we’re trying to win, knowing that the other team gets paid just like we do.”

Kerr blamed himself. What he’s noticed is the togetherness is absent.

He sees it in the one-on-one, playings hunting for their own shots instead of sharing the ball. He sees it when the rotation isn’t filled and wing players aren’t hustling down to cover the open big men. He sees it when their heads drop during runs, how each players wallows in their own world, and no one huddles the group together at the free throw line to keep spirits high and focus sharp.

Donte DiVincenzo said something similar. He remembers how unflappable the Warriors were. During his Milwaukee days, even when they would score on the Warriors, he knew they couldn’t celebrate because the Warriors were coming right back at them. It was an energy. A mindset. He believes they need that spirit back.

He said as much on the bench. More celebrating each other. More vocality and energy. The NBA’s change in rules, preventing benches from standing during the game, works against the energy they need. So he believes they need to be intentional about creating a new energy.

“When our spirits are high, our energy’s high, we have fun with the game,” DiVincenzo said after his seventh game as a Warrior. “You can look at the Cleveland game — good team, but our spirit was there, our energy was there. Missed some shots, but it didn’t matter. The big thing for us is just keeping the flow of the game going. If they score, get it out quick and go. … Right now, it’s a little bit of we’re fouling, we’re getting a little bit down on missed coverages and stuff. We’ve got to get our spirits up, fill our cup back up, and keep it moving.”

After he scored his 50th point, Curry chucked another three in desperate hopes he could dip into that double-digit lead. But with less than two minutes remaining, it was clear this was one of those nights his heroics wouldn’t be enough. Kerr cleared the bench and Curry, under the basket, didn’t bother waiting for them to be called in. He walked sluggishly to the bench and plopped in a chair. Dejected at another loss he couldn’t avoid.

This season is reminiscent of the 2020-21 season, when Curry and Green were trying to make it work with the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr., Brad Wanamaker, Wiggins still finding his way with the Warriors and a young Jordan Poole. They reached the play-in tournament and had their season ended without making the postseason.

Now Curry is back here again. But this time coming off a championship. This time, the core is healthy and proven but still struggling to put it together. He’s still spectacular but surrounded by surprising question marks. There is plenty of reason to believe what Kerr calls the foundational six — Curry, Green, Thompson Wiggins, Kevon Looney and Poole — will figure this out. But the question isn’t when Thompson and Poole will get going, or when DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green will find their comfort zones on a new team, or when the youngsters will be ready to contribute consistently.

The answer for what ails the Warriors is when these individual questions will start to be answered collectively.

“That obviously starts with me,” Kerr said. “I’m the coach of the team. So I have to figure out a way to get that production, that sort of commitment to the team and to each other, and to winning, that it’s going to require.

“Every single player has a story, has something that going on in their life. And if the group finds a way to put all that stuff in the back seat and commit to just winning the game, magic can happen.”

They’re going to need magic, more than even what Curry’s bringing.


(Top Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)





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