OAKLAND, Calif. — Brad Stevens first feared Stephen Curry in 2009, when the two faced each other in the college ranks.
Curry, then a junior guard for Davidson, struggled in his only game against Stevens’s Butler team, missing his first right shots and finishing with a hard-fought 20 points. Butler got a hard-fought win.
Years later, Stevens, now the Celtics’ coach, said he never forgot about the sharpshooting Curry, now a superstar guard for the Warriors.
“I said this to our staff last night: He’s probably out of the years I coached in college the guy that you feared the most as far as going on a run late in the game by himself,” Stevens said Friday before the Celtics faced the Warriors at Oracle Arena here.
That comment seemed to foreshadow the ending to their second meeting. Curry, who finished with 19 points, and Golden State walked away with a 99-97 win after Curry’s go-ahead jumper over Kris Humphries with 2.1 seconds left.
The Celtics, who botched their final play after Jeff Green dribbled it off his foot, have lost a season-high seven consecutive games, their longest streak since April 2007.
“I hope they don’t look at it as seven straight losses,” Stevens said. “You look at it as how you played and move forward. Those things are in the past. Tomorrow’s a new game; go after it.”
The Celtics (13-24), who have lost 10 of 11, close out their five-game Western road trip Saturday in Portland against one of the top three-teams in the West: the 27-9 Trail Blazers.
Few will give the Celtics much of a chance in that game, as the Celtics are 0-8 on the road against the Western Conference.
How is the team’s morale? It didn’t seem all that bad Friday night, with the mood in the locker room seeming mostly upbeat.
“The morale is great, as you can see,” said Jared Sullinger, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. “We’ve lost seven straight and guys are still fighting out there, guys are still trying to make plays, guys are still together. It’s not like we’re pulling apart.
“That’s the beauty of this team. Once we catch our run, we’re going to make a long one. Tomorrow we have another one. That’s the beauty of the NBA; we have to get ready for Portland.”
The biggest positive for the Celtics — the one that kept Sullinger somewhat cheerful — was the fact that for the second straight night, the team played with the kind of effort required for it to be in any game.
Granted, the Celtics still lost both games, but the effort in both was still a marked difference from their first two games of the trip, both lifeless blowout losses.
“Usually, the effort is there at the beginning of the trip and then the closer you get to going home, you lose the effort,” said veteran swingman Gerald Wallace. “That’s backwards here.
“I think guys are getting tired of losing streak and they’re trying to end it. The main thing is, we’re there competing every night. We gave ourselves a chance to win these last two ballgames. Things just didn’t go our way.”
The Celtics nearly overcame a 13-point deficit with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter to steal a much-needed road win.
“This team is filled with grinders,” Sullinger said. “Everybody’s been grinding. Regardless of the score, we’re still playing hard. Prime example [was] the Clippers game. We fought hard, we could have gotten that one. And tonight we fought hard. Curry just hit a big shot.”
Several Celtics said that Humphries, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds in his second start, played great defense on Curry on the final shot.
“Hump played tremendous defense on that last play; couldn’t defend him any better,” Sullinger said. “They asked for a pick-and-roll, we switched. Hump was in his grill and he knocked down a big-time shot.”
Said Humphries: “Great players make great plays. There’s a reason why teams score high 90s to 100 points every night. That’s because it’s an offensive league. I would’ve liked to push up maybe a little bit more, but he made a great shot.”
Andre Iguodala led the Warriors with 22 points. Klay Thompson added 17 points.
“Not a good feeling,” Stevens said when asked to describe how he felt with the game in Curry’s hands on that play. “Good player, not a good feeling.”
Several times Wallace used the phrase “the ball didn’t bounce our way,” a subtle reference to how they lost it on their final possession, with Green bobbling it before Wallace ended up with the ball, heaving a desperation shot that missed.
“I just lost the ball off my foot,” said Green, who finished with a team-high 24 points. “Luckily Gerald had a chance to make the shot, but on that play I can’t lose it on my foot. That’s on me.”
While most of the Celtics seemed, for the most part, to be upbeat, Green was upset.
“We lost,” Green said. “It hurt, period. We fought, we fought. We gave ourselves a chance, but it still hurts to lose.”
Later, Green stared at the floor when asked to assess how he has holding up, mentally, after another tough loss.
“I’m just frustrated,” he said. “I just wanted to win so bad. We just, we’re right there.”