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Did I Say Grizzlies-Warriors Would Be A Great Rivalry? I Lied

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Some day, probably in some alternate universe because the one in which we currently reside isn’t offering this in the catalog, the Sacramento Kings will remember what Stephen Curry said at the end of the Golden State Warriors’ largely shambolic 101-98 win over Memphis in Game Four of this Western Conference semifinal, and they will take it to heart as the spark of an actual rivalry between two cities that are 80 miles away by car, and a quintillion by vibe.

Until then, though, it will just have to be filed under “Curry, Stephen, Impish Sense Of Whimsy Hiding A Painful Truth.” Because as we know, Curry has that way of making insult seem charming, even one in which he told TNT, “We felt like we’d all been traded to the Kings.”

As the visual evidence of last night’s game showed, they kind of had. They barely shot 40 percent as a team and a brutal 9-for-37 from behind the arc, trailed for 47:14 of the allotted 48 minutes, and in general were lucky to escape with their pants, let alone their dignity. It had been a largely brutal day for them and nearly ended that way as well.

Mike Brown, the assistant head coach throughout the championship era, had just agreed to take the Sacramento job as an atonement for unrevealed but clearly cataclysmic sins in a prior life. He also became that rare coach to have two head coaching jobs simultaneously, as he is now the head coach of the Warriors until Steve Kerr gets over COVID-19. In addition, one of Draymond Green’s teammates at Michigan State, Adreian Payne, had been shot and killed in Florida, so the game was going to serve either as a relief, or as a boot to the incisors.

As it was, it came very close to being the latter. Having been spared the Ja Morant problem by his knee injury in Game 3, the Warriors took to the floor and promptly laid down upon it. Memphis showed a doggedness in defense and at the rim it had abandoned in previous games in this series, finally outscoring the runtier Warriors in the paint, 56-42.

But they combined that with their own horrific shooting touch, missing 26 of 35 shots from three, which contributed to a dismal 18 for 72 between both teams. And working with thimbles where once there had been regulation rims, the two teams combined for 79 points in the first half, enough to make anyone, not just Curry, think that the Kings had indeed pitched a summer training camp where a playoff game was supposed to be. In a series dominated by crummy developments — dueling ejections in Games 1 and 2, the “unwritten code” flap in Game 2, Jordan Poole’s “knee grip of death” nonsense in Game 3 and the standard fan base brain bubbles on social media — the entire series has been aesthetically and conversationally unsatisfying, with the now-absent Morant as the unmistakable high point.

So Curry dropped his Kings reference with the deft precision of a jeweler’s eye. And then, as the hyper-wary politician he is, he also knew how the TNT Kings remark sounded in his head, so he gingerly walked it back in the postgame podium.

“You misheard that,” he said, knowing that nobody had. “I was saying because Mike was the coach, it felt like we all got traded because there was a lot of talk about him being the head coach and obviously all of the sudden, now he is the head coach of our team tonight. It wasn’t about how we were playing. It was just the vibe of Mike Brown as the head coach of the Kings and now all of the sudden he’s the head coach of two teams. Got to get that straight.”

And when the interrogator said, “Good save,” Curry smiled and said, “Thank you.” It was a festival of insincerity that nobody seemed to mind that much, if only because it proved a momentary relief from whatever Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane have been doing in this series.

Thus, this series is much closer to a blessed end than the fascinating seven-gamer we thought it could be. Memphis with Morant provided epic struggles that signaled the budding of a new conference rivalry; without him, everyone seemed content to miss three-quarters of their shots. Even though the Warriors are up 3-1, it isn’t a comfortable lead artistically, with the only saving grace being that the playoffs are rarely about art until the narrative slingers tart them up in hindsight. This series will be a particularly difficult dress-up, as it promised much more than it has delivered and is now, like Brown himself, in the grip of Kingosity.

I mean, if you’re not going to believe Stephen Curry when he fibs to the nation, who will you believe?

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