As Curry Fails Leadership Test, Warriors Left Looking for Their Title Resolve

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJune 14, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 13:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 13, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

OAKLAND, Calif. — Blame Draymond Green for letting the team down if you want. But among the folks actually available on Monday night to help the Golden State Warriors polish off their historic season, no one disappointed more than two-time MVP Stephen Curry.

He didn't have to be as big and brash as Green. He didn't even need to pick up more leadership responsibility with Green suspended for cumulative playoff flagrant-foul points.

Curry just had to be himself, and it would've created enough of a comfort zone at home for his teammates to finish off these NBA Finals. Curry couldn't even manage that much.

And for a superstar on the spot, that's coming up quite a bit shy.

The upshot of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 112-97 Game 5 victory is the Warriors aren't champs again yet, and they might well not be until Game 7 on Sunday.

The potential do-or-die contest being back in Oakland means the Warriors aren't in trouble. It's still unlikely Cleveland wins this series, as three consecutive epic efforts—with the final one being on the road—are way too much to ask.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Still, it is surprising that we are even here talking about that possibility.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

The Warriors openly acknowledge they are wired to lose focus unless they feel challenged. It's time to wonder how much of that character flaw is Curry's.

If that sounds preposterous for a guy who just repeated as NBA MVP, let's look at it this way: Who do you think has more killer instinct, Curry or Green?

They are the two Warriors leaders, so if you agree that it's Green who pushes that point more, then it's an indictment of Curry by default.

And Game 5 was a golden opportunity for Curry to contradict his appearance and go baby-faced gangster on LeBron James for stepping over Green and drawing him into a fracas that led to the suspension.

Yet time after time, Curry got open looks and flat-out missed.

One game after Curry used physicality better than James did, James used shooting better than Curry did—which was even more surprising to see.

In one sequence, Curry missed the sort of shot his team expects him to make, then he got roasted on defense…and then proceeded to make a tone-deaf gesture urging his teammates to keep after it.

The occasions where Curry tried to go solo for difficult shots everyone is OK with him taking at times felt awkward. His feel for the moment was off. He was, in the words of Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in "a little bit of a hurry."

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving's 41-point night had James praising his 24-year-old teammate for his "calm," which made it even more noticeable that Curry wasn't more composed.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 13:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 13, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USE
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Instead, Green looks more valuable to this Golden State team than ever. There's no question that avoiding Green's obvious, intangible defensive greatness was a big reason Cleveland dropped 112 points on the Warriors. When Cleveland scores at least 100 in the playoffs, it is 14-0. When it does not, it's 0-5.

But that's why the Warriors needed Curry to be solid at least on offense, hitting the momentum shots so Golden State could set up its half-court defense to load up against James and Irving.

Instead, Curry shot 8-of-21 from the field with four assists and four turnovers. That helped Cleveland score 28 fast-break points to Golden State's nine.

Curry's shooting is an intrinsic part of the Warriors' identity and confidence.

You don't think Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala (combined 2-of-10 on three-point shots) felt a little extra pressure to make theirs when Curry (5-of-14) wasn't delivering as expected on his? Klay Thompson, forced into guarding Irving more and more to protect Curry, resorted to launching the deep threes that are Curry's trademark.

Golden State develops rhythm as a team—at both ends—from Curry's shot-making. It's the best way he leads, and it usually fits quite well with his even-keeled, consistent personality.

Without that on Monday night, and without Green's dynamic leadership, the Warriors panicked on their home court.

There's time, of course. But there's also a chance this championship series may be different than a year ago if the Cavaliersnow headed for Game 6 at homepush the Warriors to the Game 7 brink this time.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 13:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith #5, and Tristan Thompson #13 during the second half in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena o
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If so, we'd be talking about a Golden State team that went 73-9 in the regular season…and just 16-8 in the playoffs.

The Warriors would take it if it came with a title.

But how Curry looks is increasingly how Golden State might be remembered: incredible in the regular season…and somewhat underwhelming in the playoffs.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!