Steph Curry is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound basketball gift who was delivered to the Golden State Warriors one summer night not so long ago. In an ideal world and a different time, the defending champs would stick the banged-up MVP in bubble wrap, protecting him from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the routine dangers that accompany the NBA package.
But this is May. The NBA Finals are in June. And as the best-of-seven Western Conference finals shift to Oklahoma City for the next two games, the reality is that Curry will be a wounded Warrior for the duration of the playoffs.
He has a bum right ankle, a sore right knee, a swollen right elbow. Those are the aches and pains we know about. Surely there are others.
In between the high fives and the standing ovations Wednesday night, nervous murmurings moved through Oracle Arena like a wave. There was Curry hitting the ground near the basket, tripped from behind by Russell Westbrook, leaping over the front row and into the stands, sending fans scampering – seemingly intent on protecting their burgers and beers.
“I had a good view of it from my seat,” said Dell Curry, Steph’s father, with a soft smile. “I was surprised that the fans didn’t help him. They just moved back. Then when Steph stayed down so long, I got concerned. I kept looking for him. My buddy texted me a few minutes later and told me Steph had a big bump on his elbow.”
Apart from lingering questions about the health of Curry and center Andrew Bogut, who aggravated an adductor (groin) muscle in the series opener, Wednesday’s events prolonged an otherwise season-long celebration. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob earlier in the day was named the Sports Business Awards Executive of the Year, joining Curry (MVP) and Steve Kerr (Coach of the Year) for a near sweep of the most prestigious honors.
Yet all eyes are on the ultimate prize, of course, which means watching Curry’s movements and hoping he can stay on his feet and streak to a second consecutive title. As of Thursday, a team spokesman said the puffy elbow didn’t appear to be a major concern, though members of the team’s medical staff planned to monitor the swelling.
The white stretch sleeve that wrapped around his elbow when he met with reporters after the game, in fact, was just the latest in a growing list of protective equipment he utilizes. His locker stall often resembles a first aid station, with a pair of hard plastic ankle shields occupying much of the space.
Not that anyone needed a prep course, but the physicality of Game 2 offered another reminder of the tenuous relationship between good health and success, particularly as it pertains to the league’s best player. Similar to Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas, Curry repeatedly displays an amazing ability to withstand excruciating pain and respond with memorable performances.
In Game 1 and again early in Game 2, his limitations were noticeable. He airballed a three and missed badly on two jumpers, affirming, as Kerr has noted, that Curry is not fully recovered from the knee sprain suffered in the opening round. And while Curry somehow emerged from his high-dive expedition with only a sore elbow, he became furious when he was tripped and fell to the court, landing on his right arm. He slammed the ball and said something to referee Ed Malloy, though as it turns out, the non-call was the worst thing that could have happened to the Thunder.
You don’t poke the teddy bear, don’t tick off Curry.
The MVP answered with a 15-point, two-minute blitz that turned a game into a rout. Deep threes. Pull-up jumpers. Crafty drives that earn trips to the foul line. It was pure Steph, sore elbow aside.
“I actually hit my elbow again, so I was just frustrated,” he said later. “As a player, when you get an injury or something, it’s usually a magnet for another hit, another bang, and that was very true tonight.”
While lingering in a hallway, waiting for his older brother, free-agent guard Seth Curry said with a grin: “Steph’s a competitor. That’s who he is. You don’t want to get him mad.”
The Warriors just want to keep him healthy.