When the final buzzer sounded to end Thursday’s Game 3 between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, Steph Curry walked through the tunnel that serves as the freeway between the bench and the visiting locker room.
Curry had some pep in his step for the first time all night - foul trouble, the byproduct of controversial refereeing, had limited the superstar to 20 minutes, and denied him the right to find his trademark rhythm and flow during the actual game. Now, with the contest concluded, he could let it all out.
As he energetically worked his way through the tunnel, he threw some fake jabs at the family members and team executives lining the halls, including majority owner Joe Lacob. “Foul! Foul! Foul!” he proclaimed, as his hands never came close to making contact.
It was a commentary on the officiating, but more importantly, a microcosm of the series to that point.
After Game 3, the Warriors had achieved two blowouts, bookending a historic collapse and subsequent Clippers comeback. Each game was monumental in its own right. Each game was emotionally draining.
Moments after Curry teased the refs behind their backs, he, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Steve Kerr had their respective post game press conferences, and the questions focused on big narratives. Durant talked about the hot topic of his shot volume, and his “I am Kevin Durant” comments. Kerr talked about realizing when the team was up 31 - the same margin they carried in Game 2’s thunderous meltdown. Curry talked about being mired in foul trouble.
The basketball game was a secondary, perhaps even tertiary storyline.
For one of the greatest basketball teams ever assembled, that didn’t seem quite right.
A return to normalcy was exactly what the doctor ordered, and it was waiting for the Warriors on Sunday afternoon.
For the first time all series, the Warriors simply won a game. It wasn’t an emphatic statement. It wasn’t a confounding defeat. It was merely a basketball game in which the Clippers, a good team, were outplayed by the Warriors, a great team, to the tune of a 113-105 final score.
In the locker room and the holding room, the attitude reflected the scoreboard. The Warriors had handled business. They hadn’t avenged anything, and they had nothing left to avenge. They hadn’t proven anything, and they had nothing in particular to prove.
It was exactly what it was: A basketball game. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Outside the locker room, Curry, who shot just 3-of-14, put it succinctly: “It’s basketball. You can’t get too high, can’t get too low.”
Yesterday Steph Curry said that, despite his jumper being off, 11 of his 14 shots were good looks, 3 were forced. pic.twitter.com/F2fafnxqYW— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) April 22, 2019
The Warriors had two off days in Los Angeles, and with the narratives of blowouts and collapses firmly behind them, the team set about returning to their state of normalcy.
Klay Thompson jumped in the ocean, because, in his words, “I know that will reset my mind.”
Klay Thompson went to the beach with Jonas Jerebko yesterday. Said it got his mind right. pic.twitter.com/1gbTPGsaci— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 21, 2019
Curry stressed that finding those moments off the court are vital. Those moments of humanity are what ground the players, bring them joy, and ultimately fuel them to be their best selves when the game begins.
The results speak for themselves. What the Warriors did worked, and what they did was return to their simplistic, standard, world-beating selves.
Sunday’s Game 4 wasn’t the most entertaining, or the most dramatic. When you’re the best team in the world, that’s usually a good thing.