April 20, 2024

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The Sports Fanatics

Stephen Curry proves Warriors’ success still starts and ends with him, despite improved supporting cast

SAN FRANCISCO — If you ever need evidence that the success of the Golden State Warriors’ season starts and ends with Stephen Curry, you need look no further than their 115-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Thursday’s thrilling home opener at Chase Center.

The start: Curry made all nine of his field goals, all five of his 3-pointers and both of his free throws en route to 25 sizzling first-quarter points.

The end: Curry scored 10 of the Warriors’ final 13 points, including two dagger 3-point bombs, to seal a victory that nearly slipped from their fingertips.

Named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team before the game, Curry finished with 45 points and 10 rebounds on 16-for-25 shooting, including 8-for-13 from 3-point range. It was a dazzling display on a night when the Warriors held the NBA’s sole primetime spotlight.  

“I expect all of them to go in, regardless of how ridiculous some of them are that he decides to take,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Curry’s shooting. “You still expect them to go in, because he makes these ridiculous ass shots, and that’s what he’s done over the course of his career. That’s why he’s become who he’s become. That’s why he’s great. That’s why he’s one of the top players in this league and one of the top players to ever play this game. Tough shot taker, tough shot maker.”

Before the game, commissioner Adam Silver was taking photos with fans outside the high-end Miller & Lux steakhouse adjacent to the Chase Center media entrance. Legendary Bay Area rapper E-40 performed at halftime. The promise of a return to glory and potential coronation was in the air. None of this happens if Curry isn’t still one of the most entertaining and transcendent players in basketball.

And yet, the one-man show that Curry headlined last season has not been the theme in 2021-22. The preseason showcased a cohesive unit featuring multiple threats on both ends of the floor. The story of Golden State’s season-opening victory over LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday was the supporting cast’s ability to overcome Curry’s 5-for-21 shooting night — something last season’s Warriors almost certainly wouldn’t have survived.

For the first time in at least a few years, the “strength in numbers” mantra of the mid-2010s Warriors actually applies.

“Not knowing whose night it’s gonna be every night, but having guys that are able to go out there and compete, do what’s asked of them and just go from there,” said Damion Lee, who knocked down two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s win. “If you look at the roster, we’ve got a lot of guys looking to continue to prove themselves in this league or guys on the back end of their career. Just knowing what you do, contributing every single night. It doesn’t matter who gets the praise.”

On Thursday, however, those numbers dwindled. Jordan Poole, who dazzled in the preseason and in the season opener, went 4-for-14 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Nemanja Bjelica, who had 15 points against the Lakers, finished with six on Thursday and was held without a 3-point attempt. Golden State also committed 21 turnovers against the Clippers, though Curry was a big part of that problem with six of his own.

So many aspects of this Warriors team — good and bad — were on display throughout the game. The first quarter was beautiful, unselfish basketball that saw Golden State shoot 15-for-19 from the floor and 9-for-13 from 3-point range. In the second quarter, they went 9-for-20 from the field, 1-for-5 from the 3-point line and committed eight turnovers.

Steph Curry is at the center of all of it. He was obviously a huge part of the first-quarter explosion with his 25 points, but he was also a main culprit in the second-quarter decline, going 1-for-5 from the field and committing four turnovers as the Clippers ratcheted up their defensive physicality and Golden State’s energy waned.

Even the Chase Center crowd, same as Oracle Arena, just sounds different when Curry is on the floor. You could watch the game blindfolded and still recognize every single time Curry touched the ball because of the unique and indescribable buzz emanating from the stands. For a team playing in front of a packed stadium for the first time in over a year, it makes a big difference when Curry is able to bring the enthusiasm to a different level.

“I think our fans had a big part in this win. The energy out there was incredible,” Kerr said after the game. “It’s so great to feel that energy for the first time in a couple years.”

While the Warriors’ added depth raises their ceiling as a potential championship contender, particularly when Klay Thompson and James Wiseman return to the fold, their fate ultimately rests in Curry’s skillful hands. He’s proving that last season was no fluke, that he can still perform at an MVP level, and that his new supporting cast can even take his game to new heights.

“Hopefully we can continue to build culture and a true home-court advantage here,” Curry said after the game. “Because it’s going into the third season (at Chase Center) and we haven’t had that opportunity yet.”