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Steph Curry Needs to Get His Mojo Back

The Warriors guard’s struggles in the Western Conference finals could either be a blip on the radar for Golden State or a more worrisome portent of the rest of the series

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After the Warriors fell to the Rockets 127-105 to even their Western Conference finals series on Wednesday night, a reporter asked Steve Kerr how much of Steph Curry’s disappointing performance could be attributed to his nagging knee injury.

“Uhhhhhh,” Kerr said. “13.7 percent.”

That answer may be tongue-in-cheek, but Chef Curry, who missed most of March and all of April with MCL and ankle issues, has been cooking weak sauce so far in the Western Conference finals. Over two games in Houston, Steph has scored a total of 34 points on 34 shots while going just 2-for-13 from the 3-point line. During the season, Steph led the NBA in plus-minus at plus-9.5. On Wednesday, he finished minus-20. His two turnovers on Wednesday were the kind that burn in your brain, each going directly out of bounds nowhere near a teammate (perhaps Travis Scott screaming at Curry from the floor seats gave Steph goosebumps).

Golden State lost Game 2 by 22, so it’s not all on Steph. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston combined to outscore P.J. Tucker by two points. The Warriors had seven turnovers in the first quarter after committing nine turnovers in all of Game 1. Green was his usual deferential self, passing up opportunities close to the basket, and Thompson was just 3-for-11 from the field. With the Splash Brothers’ well running dry, the Warriors needed Kevin Durant to make nearly as many field goals (13) as the other starters combined (14). As Mike D’Antoni quipped in his postgame press conference, the Warriors resorted to iso ball.

The biggest obstacle between the Warriors and their dynastic destiny isn’t another team, but Steph’s mojo failing to return, à la the 2016 playoffs. Through two games, the Rockets have thwarted Steph by having their bigs play tight defense when switched onto him, daring him to drive and denying open looks from 3. Whether Steph is unable or unwilling to take what the Rockets are offering him, the plan has thus far worked. His defensive performance added to the frustration, as James Harden constantly targeted Steph in Game 2. Maybe you aren’t worried that Steph’s mojo won’t return, but perhaps Steph is, because his mouthguard ended up in the stands for the first time since that Cavs series.

In all likelihood, Game 2 was an anomaly. The Warriors let washed Manu Ginobili walk all over them in Game 4 against the Spurs, and the Pelicans crushed Golden State in a similarly sloppy performance by the defending champs two weeks ago. Both opponents were swiftly vanquished in the ensuing games. Odds are the Warriors will win their next two home games, clinch the series in Houston, defeat whatever overachieving Eastern team survives the conference finals, and we’ll remember this game as the last ray of light before the Warriors blotted out the NBA sun for the third time in four seasons. Yet there’s a chance—say, 13.7 percent—that the outcome of these playoffs isn’t prewritten after all.