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Steph's valor, greatness can't lift Warriors above mediocrity

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He led the Warriors in scoring, which is typical. He led them in rebounding, which is more than could be expected of a 6-foot-3 point guard. He led them in plus/minus, led them in grit, led them in fighting spirit.

Steph Curry is busting his butt, literally and figuratively, for the Warriors, and his reward Thursday night was another serving of cold, damp despair.

While Curry was going about his typical work business -- including 36 points, with perfect free-throw shooting, 11 rebounds and two drawn-charge attempts -- the Warriors were spinning a web of futility around his production and left Miami with a 116-109 loss to the Heat.

Is there any way any more could have been asked of Curry?

“No,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph was amazing down the stretch, particularly, but he always completes, always fights. He was tremendous.”

Nursing a bruised tailbone that forced him to miss five games and easily could linger into next week and beyond, Curry played a team-high 36 minutes, shooting 9-of-19 from the field, 5-of-11 from deep and 13-of-13 from the line.

With the Warriors trailing 98-86 with 7:22 remaining, Curry shed his heat pack, reentered and sliced the deficit in half, scoring 16 Golden State’s final 23 points.

“He’s definitely in pain,” Draymond Green said. “You can see the pain on his face every time he falls. You can kind of see it when he’s moving. He definitely in pain. But ... he’s one of the toughest guys.”

 

In his desire to get more out of this season, Curry has tried leading by example. He has tried issuing calm advice. He tried shouting and collectively shaming. Tried taking charges when most of his teammates are not feeling that option.

And, still, the Warriors are 23-25, on the outer fringes of the Western Conference playoff race.

“There’s a lot of growing pains going on right now,” Curry said. “And the frustration is we haven’t been able to sustain it long enough to form an identity. That’s on us. 

“We’ve got 24 games left. It’s not something we can’t figure out. But we’ve got to get gritty at this point to find something that will get us over this hump that we’ve been talking about for the majority of the season.”

The hump refers to the inability to fashion anything more than a single, solitary, three-game win streak while twice absorbing losing streaks of four games. The hump refers to the defense coming together, only to fall apart. It refers to the team’s utter failure to accomplish a stretch that feels remotely like a winning vibe.

And there’s Curry, suppressing his agony, giving extreme effort and posting special statistics -- only to see his good work lost in the winds of mediocrity. This cannot be good for the psyche.

“When you’re out there, whatever the injury is and you’re ‘playing hurt,’ it’s not anything you try to think about when you’re out there,” Curry said. “This one lingers. And you know it’s going to be there. But as long as I can be functional and make the moves that I want to do, you try to put it in the back of your mind and you try not to land on it. And I haven’t done a great job of that the last two games.”

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Curry has landed hard on his backside at least five times since returning to the lineup on Monday. Attempting to draw a charge from Heat star Jimmy Butler, Curry was knocked backward off his feet and quickly lowered his hands to cushion his fall.

How scary is the thought of a hand or wrist injury?

For Curry, it’s what he feels has to do to stay on the floor. To give his team its best chance of winning.

“There’s this misconception about him and Klay [Thompson],” Green said, citing ignorants that assume Black men with light complexions to be soft. “Two of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with. For him to come out there and give all that he’s got, going through the pain that he’s going through on a nightly basis for the last few nights, it’s something to follow. And I hope the young guys see that, because I do.”

Though Curry would never say so, that might be the most painful aspect of this season. His teammates are not always willing to consistently match his desire and willingness to sacrifice.

 

No matter what Steph does, or how well he does it, this season won’t fly much higher unless his companions are consistently better.

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