"It was weird. It was really weird," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of what happened in the first half. "You sort of take it for granted." He was not talking about the absence of Golden State's ever-reliable offense, though. Instead, Kerr was referring to an atmosphere that might have informed a scoring malaise.
Madison Square Garden, normally blaring with music and giant video screen movie clips, conducted an experiment in which no noise would play during the first half. For long stretches, the hard clank of rims was the closest thing to a Madison Square Garden metronome, as bored murmurs entered the spaces usually filled by artificial noise.
That was an unfortunate set up for Stephen Curry, who entered the game perhaps most in need of course correction. He came in off one of the more mystifying slumps of a his career, having hit a mere 4 of his 31 attempted 3-pointers through three games of this road trip. Shooting slumps happen, but they're usually helped along by suffocating defense. In this case, Curry had many open looks during this stretch. (According to SportVu of NBA stats, he went 1-of-16 on 3-pointers classified as "wide open" over the three games.)
Asked by the ABC game crew if he ever loses confidence when going through a shooting slump, Curry said, "I think about the mechanics or if there's something different going on on the court. But there's a reason I can go 0-for-11. You have to have confidence in yourself to be able to do that."
Curry, who finished with a game-high 31 points, certainly came out firing, tossing up eight shots in the first quarter. The freeze refused to thaw, though, as Curry missed his four treys attempted during that stretch.
He was far from alone: Golden State was generally miserable on offense through the first two quarters, especially when Curry sat in the second. At the first-half horn, the Warriors had managed only 49 points on 47 shots, having shot 36 percent from the field.
Of the "quiet" start, Draymond Green was less than pleased. "It changed the flow of the game, it changed everything," Green said. "You get so used to playing the game a certain way. It changed that. To me it was disrespectful."
In the third quarter, the noise returned and so did the Warriors. Curry got on track, scoring 15 points in the quarter and closing it with an impressive flourish. Curry's closing sequence started with a spin move past Kristaps Porzingis for a layup. That was followed by a corner 3, for which he got himself into form with a dribble. Finally, to end it, he hit one of his familiar off-the-dribble bombs.
Though the Warriors won the quarter 35-26, they weren't wholly out of the woods. The Knicks, bolstered by an impressive Porzingis performance, fought to the end. A few timely Klay Thompson shots and Andre Iguodala passes put the game in hand. The punctuation mark arrived via a Curry long 2 over Carmelo Anthony.
Though Curry's latest struggles were strange, this game displayed his value. Even when he was missing, the Warriors were worse sans his threat. Curry was plus-22 in a game in which his team was outscored by seven during his bench rest. Before Curry went off, Kerr conveyed the importance of his impact to the star, which was shown on the ABC/ESPN broadcast.
"That's your shooting totals, that's your plus-minus," Kerr began. "All right. So, it's not always tied together. You're doing great stuff out there. The tempo is so different when you're out there. Everything you generate for us is so positive. It shows up here but not always there, but it always shows up there. You're doing great." As Curry bounced up to get in the game, Kerr yelled, "Carry on my son!"
No one knows if that message, the law of averages, or the introduction of music fixed Curry's shot. Kerr's message was true enough, though. Curry, who has been top 2 in total plus-minus through four consecutive seasons, brings an impact beyond his shooting efficiency on a given night. Even cold Curry can pace the Warriors, but Golden State will herald the return of this incandescent incarnation with celebration and relief. That swish is music to the ears of a team that really, really likes its music.