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Why Steph’s Warriors burden, at age 36, is heavier than ever

In Sports
April 16, 2024

Why Steph’s Warriors burden, at age 36, is heavier than ever originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors don’t want to be in this line with the NBA’s ordinary folk, standing behind the velvet rope watching the league’s bougie teams get waved through the VIP entrance. It’s humbling, particularly for a franchise of glorious decoration.

The Warriors once were NBA royalty, the league’s most popular celebrities, living on the privileged side of velvet rope.
They are here now, after finishing 10th in the Western Conference and waiting with the generics assigned to the NBA Play-In Tournament, because only a thin layer separates them from outright mediocrity.

Because their roster has been skimmed to one All-Star: Stephen Curry.

Are his shoulders, sculpted by thousands of hours in weight training, strong enough to carry the Warriors through the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday and the rest of the play-in tournament? And, ultimately, into the exclusivity of the NBA playoffs?

“I think it’s pretty obvious it’ll be a disappointment,” Curry said Monday, “if we’re not in a playoff series and have an opportunity to compete at that level.”

They were last season, when Curry not only led them to the No. 6-seed and an automatic playoff berth but also submitted a tour de force performance – 50 points, eight rebounds, six assists over 38 minutes – against the Kings in Game 7 of the first round to get the Warriors into the conference semifinals.

“He’s one of the great clutch players in the history of the league,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We know that.

“He led the league this year in player efficiency in clutch minutes,” Kerr continued. “We’ve seen him win championships, win Finals MVP. I mean, Steph Curry is Steph Curry. So, that performance did not surprise me. Because he’s that guy. He’s ‘him,’ as [Los Angeles Lakers guard] Austin Reaves said. He was sublime in that game.”

Curry by last April had experienced 134 playoff games over eight previous postseasons. He worked his way up to that epic game to push Golden State into another playoff series. He was 24 years old in his first playoff game, 35 last spring. He turned 36 last month.

With each year an NBA star plays into his mid-30s, the volume of curiosity rises. How long can he be great? Or, in Curry’s case, how long can he continue being the effective sun around which the Warriors revolve?

The cold truth is that it becomes more difficult every year, particularly when the two original members of Curry’s supporting cast – primary wing men Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – don’t soar as high as years when they were perennial All-Stars.

The Warriors are relatively deep, but the elite talent is less elite than five years ago. So, the burden on Curry to be great is heavier. He is more prepared than ever, but that only accounts for himself.

“It’s a little bit more of a comfort zone of understanding what that environment is like,” said Curry, reflecting on his postseason experience. “When you’re 26, you’re just really antsy and anxious. You’re living off that youthful energy. That carries you through, even if mentally you don’t quite understand how to execute at that level. You can kind of get by.

“For me [now], it’s locking in on the strategy that we’re trying to implement with the game plan, understanding what I need to do to get my body ready.”

It must be understood that the flame of Curry’s competitive fire, on the basketball court or the golf course, is wide and tall and never goes away. Don’t for a minute believe Golden State’s conference semifinals loss to LeBron James and the Lakers last May isn’t sitting in his gut like a bag of tacks.

And please believe Curry is aware of the feat James, three years older and his longtime rival and foil, managed on the last day of the regular season to ensure his Lakers would finish one game better the Warriors in the standings. James’ epic stat line in a victory over the Pelicans on Sunday in New Orleans: 28 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, five steals.

Curry would like to make his own statement. Not to prove anything – he’s beyond that – but to remind all that he still has the goods.

“This year has been all up and down, and the playoffs are the most fun time of the year,” he said. “We just want an opportunity.

“Even sitting here right now 24 hours before the game [in Sacramento], I feel very comfortable and ready for the moment. That just comes with all the reps you’ve had over the years.”

Curry knows what awaits him Tuesday night. Being at the top of Sacramento’s scouting report means the usual double-teams and a platoon of defenders whose mission is to not let him take over the game.

For the Kings to not let Curry him send them home for the second straight season with anything remotely resembling the 50-point bomb he dropped last April.

Victory puts the Warriors halfway to the door. All Curry and his teammates want is to win two in a row and prove themselves worthy of admittance.

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