SAN FRANCISCO — Every ounce of energy Steph Curry had left he took out on his jersey. With a two-handed rip through the letters on his chest, Curry screamed. This was adrenaline borne of yet another heartbreak — perhaps the Warriors’ worst yet with plenty of runners-up.
To the national audience watching, the Warriors’ double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers served as a reminder of why the aging superstars are still king. The game began as another chapter to the decade-long rivalry between LeBron James and Curry’s Warriors and refused to end without a bang.
Curry sent it to overtime, dribbling Lakers center Anthony Davis around the court for half of the remaining 11 seconds in regulation and juking him with a dribble fake and easy layup. Klay Thompson sent it to double overtime, burying his ice-cold start to the game with a cold-blooded 3 with six seconds remaining.
In the second OT, it was a fatigued Curry who hit the go-ahead 3 with space created by a leveling screen set by Draymond Green. Thompson fouled out in double OT, and Andrew Wiggins fouled out, too. Then it was James who called game, taking the very last five seconds to drive, draw a foul, and sink both free throws for the lead. He finished with 36 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 12 assists in 48 minutes.
A few of the game’s very best in the second and third decades of their careers — matching each other clutch shot for big play until there was no time left to counter.
An hour after the buzzer, Curry walked up the locker room stairs. He’d played 43 minutes, scored 46 points, and opted for a pair of thick rubber-soled black boots for his game-day outfit, so it was more of a trudge than a walk.
“Every year we get to do this, the back-and-forth battles, all the Finals runs, to the playoffs last year,” Curry said. “After the horn sounded tonight there was a little laugh of we can’t imagine a scenario where a game like tonight happens, his year, what, 21, and my year 15. All the other guys in the league who have been doing it for 15-plus years, (Kevin Durant), (Chris Paul), it’s insane.
What an end to #NBARivalsWeek
LeBron, Steph gave us one of the games of the YEAR tonight as the Lakers topped the Warriors in a double-overtime THRILLER! pic.twitter.com/BRS6Bb9Ykr
— NBA (@NBA) January 28, 2024
“You look forward to the battles, but you also appreciate the mutual respect of what it takes to keep doing what you’re doing at this level because only a few people know how hard it is. I’m happy to be in that group.”
Said James: “It’s something I’ll be able to talk about with my grandkids, talk about me being able to compete with one of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
The reflective tone between both stars is unavoidable in a year that’s forced them both to confront their NBA mortality.
For Curry and the Warriors, this double-OT loss was another stinging defeat added to a long list of bad ones that have thrown this dynasty’s future into complete flux. Golden State is 19-24 and dwelling with the Western Conference teams without a prayer.
But of those 24 losses, a majority have been heartbreakers: They’ve been victims to made Hail Mary game-winners, blown 20-point leads, dropped one-point games, and veteran mistakes in crunch time. The truth is good teams know how to finish off wins, and the Warriors just aren’t good enough.
“Our season has been full of tough breaks,” Curry said. “Winning is contagious. These last two games, if they go the other way there is a different vibe in our locker room. But losing sucks. It’s the worst feeling in the world. Until you get over the hump, you just have to sit in it. That’s where we’re at.”
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Coach Steve Kerr continues to project optimism — as he has during every low point this year — that a turnaround is within the Warriors. With Green back in the fold and a strong five-man lineup starting to take form, that optimism may just be justified.
He started his 15th different lineup on Saturday and closed regulation with the same group of Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga and Green. That five has outscored opponents by a total of 17 points in 35 total minutes played together over three games against the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Lakers.
With Green facilitating and dominating at center, the lineup delivers all the Warriors need from their two athletic wings and two all-time scorers. Kerr will continue with this lineup moving forward.
Saturday’s loss was a reminder of all the history this team has created, and yet another reminder of the self-preservation required to keep writing new chapters like this. So, for now, all the Warriors can do is look forward.
“We really want it, we’re playing with a little bit of desperation trying to change the tide of our season,” Curry said. “We just don’t have nothing to show for it.”