Steph Curry’s ankles. Remember the pain and uncertainty? The suffering he endured early in his career, particularly in a right ankle that was surgically repaired in 2011 and ’12?
Right now, those ankles might be the most valuable body parts in professional sports.
With Golden State dominating the Houston Rockets in the first half of an NBA playoff opener at Oracle Arena, one seemingly minor misstep by the league’s reigning MVP at least temporarily hit the pause button on the Warriors’ repeat championship aspirations.
He tweaked it, he sprained it, he turned it.
Whatever he did – the injury was loosely diagnosed as all of the above – he certainly landed awkwardly after missing a floater over Rockets 6-foot-11 center Dwight Howard, then appeared to slip as he turned to get back on defense. Following a quick timeout call, and with just under two minutes remaining in the half, Curry walked gingerly toward the bench and was escorted to the locker room by a team trainer.
Of course, being the competitor that he is, he had the ankle retaped and rejoined his teammates on the court to start the second half. This is one greedy guy. For openers, he had only torched the visitors with three steals, six rebounds and 24 points and boosted his Warriors to a 26-point advantage when he suffered his non-contact injury. He wanted more. He always wants more.
Yet seconds into the third quarter of the Warriors’ 104-78 victory, coach Steve Kerr saw what the other 19,596 spectators in the building observed: the 6-foot-3 guard moving slowly, at times limping noticeably, occasionally even wincing.
“I didn’t like the way he was moving,” Kerr said after listing Curry as questionable for Game 2. “He wanted to stay in, but we weren’t going to play him regardless of what happened.”
This is no time to play games. The Warriors’ first-round matchup looks to be a breeze, with the Rockets performing very much like a team that needed a victory over the depleted Kings to earn the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.
James Harden contributed a meager four points, committed four fouls and never appeared at the foul line in the deciding opening half. Howard is a physical shell of the player who flexed his muscles, called himself Superman and was a defensive beast around the basket. Feisty point guard Patrick Beverley tried to muscle Curry into submission but contributed two points and three fouls while his counterpart scored all 24 points in a mere 17 minutes.
Curry belonged on the bench, and soon enough, his ankles were encased in ice. Other than the San Antonio Spurs, who are lurking in the playoff background, the only realistic obstacle between the Warriors and a second consecutive title is an injury to one of their premier players, specifically, say, to the best player in the game. The defending champs have been cruising along, setting records for three-pointers (Curry), regular-season victories (73) and love songs via magazine covers, sports highlight shows and virtually every form of social media.
“We have a great mix of personalities and characters on our team, and I think you need that,” said Kerr. “Steph has a very calming presence. Draymond (Green) is the fire that we need. Andre (Iguodala) and Bogues (Andrew Bogut) are kind of the wise sages of the group. You need a little bit of everything, but they have gone through this together.”
Ah, yes. Togetherness. Cohesiveness. Chemistry. The 2015-16 Kings should be in the stands taking notes.
The Warriors’ length enables them to switch everything defensively. Their depth promotes long lives, pleasant moods and plenty of opportunities for tinkering with the playing time of Iguodala, Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush, all available after missing stretches with a variety of ailments during the regular season.
But then came that sneaky-scary moment Saturday. All eyes will be fixated on Curry for the next 24 to 48 hours because, of course, the Warriors are a terrific team without him; with him they are transcendent, right up there with the best and most appealing in the history of the game.
Curry – also known as Seth’s older brother – led the league in scoring (30.1 points per game), set an NBA record with 402 three-pointers and scorched the Memphis Grizzlies for 46 points in Golden State’s record 73rd win in its regular-season finale.
Then there are the style points. If the basketball savant performed off a high dive, he would be Greg Louganis with a twist. The degree of difficulty on his field-goal attempts – from in-close, from all angles and from the wild blue yonder – ranks somewhere in the range of 10-plus and beyond ridiculous.
Yet after Saturday’s blip, even Curry acknowledged some concern, recalled unpleasant memories from his past.
“I was in the back, thinking about the San Antonio series a couple years ago where I tweaked (an ankle) in Game 2 or 3, and it bothered me the rest of the series,” he said. “But that’s human nature. Hopefully it responds well in the next few days.”
That’s the plan, anyway.
“We just know we have a good thing here, and we want to take advantage of it and keep pushing the envelope,” he said the other day. “It would suck to not finish the job off.”