Not that anyone thinks of Stephen Curry as just another pretty face these days, but without their ailing MVP, the Golden State Warriors look like just another contender.
The road is not a friend. The balance of power shifts. Repeating as NBA champions is no longer a gimme.
And we know this because?
The Houston Rockets – a grumpy, disjointed group that barely slipped into the playoffs, is expected to replace its coach and nudge its deteriorating, formerly dominant free-agent center out of town, and whose star is a talented, one-on-one player whose style is the antithesis of the share-the-wealth Warriors – won Game 3 of the opening-round playoff series in the closing seconds.
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It’s not pain. It’s like soreness that comes along with all that my ankle’s been through. It’s kind of to be expected, and I see it as this is my playoff thing.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry
Forget the fact the league’s officiating supervisor Friday announced that James Harden should have been called for an offensive foul before making his winning jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining. And what exactly is the point of contributing to the Warriors’ hangover? While transparency normally is to be applauded, it makes no sense to publicly embarrass the referees – who watch game replays shortly after the final buzzers and are forced to address their mistakes internally – when the score never changes.
The reality becomes this: The Warriors hold a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven matchup and – fingers crossed – expect Curry to play in Game 4 Sunday. The final decision will be made after Curry warms up at Toyota Center while being closely observed by general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and members of the team’s medical and training staff. No predictions, though. Ankles are cranky beasts. This is the same protocol the Warriors followed at Oracle Arena before Game 2, when Curry cut short his pregame routine and walked off the court frowning and shaking his head.
Curry, who wears hard plastic shields on the inside and outside of his ankles, also sat out Game 3. But after participating in a three-on-three scrimmage Friday, he said he was “pretty close” to being pain-free. On Saturday, after Curry participated in a full practice, the mood was decidedly more upbeat. “He scrimmaged today,” Kerr told reporters. “We went full-court five-on-five. He didn’t have any pain this morning or after the workouts. So we’re expecting him to play, but we’ll see how he is in the morning.”
Without their 6-foot-3 superstar – a magnet for opposing defenders because of his spectacular shooting, cat-quick hard dribbles and crossovers and assortment of creative floaters, one-handed bank shots and reverse layups – the Warriors’ starters seemed out of rhythm and committed uncharacteristic mistakes in their Game 3 loss. Klay Thompson forced shots and missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Draymond Green, a triple-double threat most nights, committed seven turnovers, including a ballhandling error on the Warriors’ final possession. Harrison Barnes remained mired in his postseason slump – terribly ill-timed given his pending free agency. Andrew Bogut was hindered by foul trouble. Despite solid contributions from reserves Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights and Ian Clark, the Warriors only sporadically resembled the team known for aggressive defense, ball movement and fluid, aesthetically appealing style of play, prolonging the series against a clearly inferior opponent.
The hope, of course, was to sweep the eighth-seeded Rockets and benefit from additional rest before the second round while lowering the odds of a key player suffering a playoff-ending injury. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, remember, was in street clothes for last year’s Finals matchup against Golden State. And Curry’s right ankle that required surgeries in 2011 and 2012 prompts the Warriors to proceed cautiously.
He scrimmaged (Saturday). We went full-court five-on-five. He didn’t have any pain this morning or after the workouts. So we’re expecting him to play, but we’ll see how he is in the morning.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, on Stephen Curry’s status for Game 4 Sunday
“It’s not pain,” he said Saturday. “It’s like soreness that comes along with all that my ankle’s been through. It’s kind of to be expected, and I see it as this is my playoff thing. Everybody has something they’re dealing with. It’s stable, no swelling or anything, so I can do everything I need to do. (But) it’s tough. It’s the playoffs, man. It’s what you want to be ready for. You see your guys out there fighting, doing what they need to do to help us get wins. I want to be out there with them and enjoy the atmosphere. So, hopefully, Game 3 was the last one I’ll miss.”