HOUSTON – If you didn’t know any better, you just might wonder if the Golden State Warriors were even worried about their Stephen Curry crisis.
Not long after their Game 4 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, in that visitor’s locker room inside the Toyota Center where a 3-1 series lead was nothing but an afterthought, levity reigned. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala talked about playing golf during the coming off-day, or perhaps getting a massage.
But each and every look on their faces was deceiving. The Warriors, make no mistake, are well aware that their title defense is in jeopardy.
According to a person with knowledge of Curry’s situation, the early fear is that Curry suffered a sprain in his medial collateral ligament during his second-quarter slip. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because an official diagnosis has not yet been made.
The Warriors won’t know for sure until Monday, when Curry is scheduled to undergo an MRI. But if those fears are realized, it could be quite some time before he is playing again.
According to Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer whose web site, InStreetClothes.com, is a popular resource for NBA injury information, the average absence for players who had low grade MCL sprains this season was 15 days (based on 11 cases in all). In other words, assuming the Warriors can finish the job against the Rockets in Game 5 at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, Golden State’s best-case scenario here may demand that they survive the second round without Curry.
The playoff pace, with games spaced out and rest time so readily available, is in their favor here. Still, this could be the tallest of tasks.
The Los Angeles Clippers look to be the most likely second-round opponent, though they fell in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday and now lead their first-round series 2-1. Either way, the prospect of beating any of the top-tier teams without the reigning MVP is one they’ll now have to consider.
If it’s the Clippers, then it’s a face-off against the Chris Paul-led team that finished the regular season on a tear (a 10-2 record with a net rating of plus-12.6; the Warriors were second at plus-8.8). In terms of the timeline, consider this comparison: the Warriors concluded their second-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies last season on May 15 – three weeks from now, for parallel’s sake.
“Our margin for error without Steph is far less than what it is when he’s on the court, because he can make up so much on his own,” Green told USA TODAY Sports. “He can draw so much attention that we get easier stuff. We know that. That’s one of the things we figured out when playing without him. That definitely raises a sense of urgency, because you know everything has to be spot-on.”
When it comes to impact play, Curry stands alone.
He is expected to soon become the back-to-back winner of the league’s MVP award. His last six months of work – a league-leading 30.1 points per game with unreal accuracy (50.4% overall, 45.4% from three-point range, 90.8% from the free throw line), record-shattering three-point shooting (402), and an all-around game to boot (6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game) – is in the discussion for best single season of all time.
In terms of “win shares,” a statistic cited on Basketball-Reference.com to gauge the estimated number of wins that a player has contributed, Curry’s mark of 17.9 is tops in the league (the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant was second at 14.5).
But the part that doesn’t show up in the statistics is, well, the soul. Call it heart, competitive fire, or good, old-fashioned grit, but Curry clearly has it. Curry, so overwhelmed with emotion when coach Steve Kerr had told him he simply couldn’t play, will do everything he can to get back on the floor.
“He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve ever been around,” Green said. “That’s what flies so far under the radar for him. He’s so good, his shot is so great, his ballhandling is so great, the oopty-doo (style), and you forget to look at how competitive he is. He’s a (expletive) beast, and that’s what makes him who he is. …He wants to be out there. He wants to play.”
And his want, it’s quite clear, is something the Warriors desperately need.