OAKLAND, Calif -- "Steph Curry is not Michael Jordan."
Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson was defending his superstar amid questions of why Curry doesn't just "take over."
Curry fielded pointed queries for a couple of days about shooting only 10 times in Game 5, which could represent a paradigm shift in how the point guard position is perceived nowadays. Aren't these guys supposed to set up other players?
In Game 6 on Thursday night, Curry came out firing, throwing up 17 shots in the first half, drawing anticipatory murmurs from the crowd as each shot arced. The results were spotty, though. Curry hit only seven of his tries and the Warriors shot 32.7 percent in the half. For Curry, this beginning was about more than the results, though. He was trying to establish a presence against the defense that muted him in the previous game.
"I came out aggressive in the first quarter, but you want to try to be assertive and be the one throwing the punches out there with what you're doing on the floor and not being passive," Curry said after a 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena. "Whether that's giving up a lot of shots or just trying to pick and choose where you're going to be able to get your looks and get other guys open."
The "aggressive" part is exciting, but the latter part about picking and choosing might not evoke so much emotion. There's a desire for superstars to impose their will on a game, but the game doesn't always crumble into the fetal position just because an athlete tried hard. Sometimes the best way to win is a bit more subtle. In the second half, Curry hunted for shots less and found his teammates more often.
That's when the Warriors got going, or whatever passed for getting going in a game replete with foul calls (70 total free throws). In the second half, Golden State shot 48.7 percent and Curry supplemented the effort with six assists and a mere six points. The Warriors are sometimes better when Curry's either giving up the ball, or acting as an off-ball decoy. It's about attacking however the defense wants to attack Curry.
For the Warriors, the first half was played in DeAndre Jordan's shadow. The Clippers' center started with three blocks of the emphatic variety, then leveraged that beginning into a scare of errant floaters and layups that screamed off the rim.
The problems that plagued them in losses this series appeared fatal in this elimination game. They were too small for the Blake Griffin-Jordan frontline, too depleted after Jermaine O'Neal left because of a knee injury caused by a Glen Davis foul.
Somehow they collectively summoned enough energy, effort and execution to overcome all that. David Lee has been battling the far-larger Jordan all series, giving up his body until a sixth foul forced him from the action. Draymond Green's spirited work in guarding the larger Griffin, though Griffin was loath to give Green credit afterward.
When asked about Green's defense, Griffin, who shot 8-of-24 from the field, said, "Just missed some easy shots the past couple games here. Whenever you have a smaller defender, it's not so much the one-on-one matchup just because they're constantly running people at you. I've got to do a better job of reading the double teams and passing out of them, things like that."
Though Griffin could have stood to give his opponent a little credit, he's right about the Warriors swarming him with guards. Golden State is relying on speed to overcome the size deficit. The smallball look might not win them the series, but it's the best chance they've got.
And the Clippers might be vulnerable, now that this matchup has shrunk to one game.
At times, Chris Paul moved at tricycle speed. He claimed, "Yea, I'm OK. I'm OK," but in Game 6 he didn't look like someone who could credibly be called the best point guard of his generation. Perhaps it's his nagging hamstring injury and perhaps it's the task of chasing Curry around all series -- probably both.
The Warriors have a window of opportunity, even if Paul was completely healthy. A team with 3-point shooters can take any single game against a bigger, deeper opponent.
They'll need to keep fighting the way they did in Game 6, though. On Thursday night, they persevered through foul trouble, injury, and Jordan Crawford creating offense with Marreese Speights -- in a playoff elimination game, no less.
If you wanted a play that epitomized the effort, it was the generously-listed 6-foot-7 Green snatching an offensive rebound from Jordan's grasp when the Warriors led by two with a little over a minute left.
It didn't seem possible until it happened, which is what we would be saying if the Warriors win this series.