BOSTON — Stephen Curry could have skipped the post-game press conference, but he knew what that would have signaled. He could have gone straight from the dressing room to the team bus after Game 3 on Wednesday and probably immediately for an MRI scan to find out the extent of the damage to his left leg caused when Al Horford collapsed on it.
Nobody would have seen Curry run. Nobody would have asked him how he felt. And anyone would have assumed the worst – that Curry was pretty badly injured and in serious danger of missing Friday’s Game 4 as the Warriors were already 2-1 down against the Celtics in that series. That the series really could, for all intents and purposes, be over.
But Curry walked to the press conference alone with a slight limp, answered the questions, and then calmly (and maybe a little faster) walked out. When everyone is watching. When everyone asks and rates.
Was that a grimace as Curry moved across that uneven spot on the floor? Did he slow down to go up the steps to the podium? Should he have worn a boot? What did we really see?
I was there. I watched him go in and out. I asked a question. My conclusion: Curry who showed up for that presser was Curry who showed us that he absolutely believes he will play on Friday despite his foot clearly hurting and it will take many hours of treatment to get him back on track bring ground.
In a way, it was Curry who told everyone that the series isn’t over yet. There could be more pain to come, but it’s not over yet.
“I got caught – obviously some pain but I’ll be fine,” Curry said of the moment Horford fell on his leg in a fourth-quarter fight for the ball. “See how tomorrow feels and get ready for Friday.”
In what is probably the most annoying part for the Warriors and their fans, Curry said the pain felt very similar to the injury he sustained in March when Boston’s Marcus Smart surfaced on the same foot, causing Curry to die last 12 regular tournament games missed season; he did not return until Game 1 of the first round against Denver.
“Not so bad,” Curry said. He later said: “I don’t feel like I’m missing a game. Use these next 48 hours to get ready.”
Smart’s dive in March was far more reckless than Horford’s fall on Wednesday, but nobody associated with the Warriors failed to appreciate that both included the Celtics’ very physical landing on Curry’s leg. The injury came as Boston pulled away in their eventual 116-100 win at TD Garden, so the Celtics didn’t win that game, but the Warriors probably can’t win that series if Curry hobbles even slightly.
Curry writhed in pain after Horford fell but stayed in the game for a couple of minutes. He looked a little angry. He then took a punch down the middle while defending a smart drive, grimaced even more and Steve Kerr took him out with the game already lost.
But it’s clear Horford’s goal was the ongoing problem. And Curry’s teammates knew right away.
“I caught my (sixth) foul by pushing (Smart) off him because he’s yelling at the bottom of the pile,” Draymond Green said of the extra scrum after Curry lingered on the ground. “Yes, it is what it is. I take the foul. But I will get him off his feet.”
I asked Curry how scary was that moment?
“It’s obviously a big body,” Curry said, referring to Horford. “I didn’t see the play, so I don’t know if it could have been avoided or not. I was at bay with Marcus in this situation, and you just want to get your foot out of there. That was all I tried at that point knowing what position I was in.”
All of this came after the Warriors were hit hard early on by the Celtics, rebounded in the third quarter behind Curry’s brilliance and Klay Thompson’s first red-hot Finals slump, and then were once again overwhelmed by Boston’s size and athleticism in the fourth quarter. when they were surpassed 23-11.
All of this came after Curry was by far the Warriors’ best offensive player, scoring 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting (6 of 11-of-3), but also after Curry was being relentlessly hunted on defense. He got into trouble early on which made him more vulnerable and the Celtics punished the Warriors by letting him face off against either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.
“Yeah, that’s no surprise,” Kerr said. “You know, they’re going to put him in the pick and roll. They’re gonna put some of our guys in the pick and roll. Try to make us stand guard. Steph caught a few unlucky ones early on, but I don’t think the nasty issues really affected the game.
“We just kept him out there and I don’t know, did he finish with four fouls? So he played it through really well. He defended like crazy and obviously his shot in that third quarter was amazing. Allowed us to take the lead, but it wasn’t enough for us in the fourth.”
Overall, Game 3 was just further proof that Curry is the Warriors’ main answer to almost everything in this series, and at times it’s hard to see how even he can pull it all off. He has to score. He has to force powerful Celtics defenders to move towards him, which opens avenues for other Warriors players. He has to defend himself. He’ll have to physically hold out when the Celtics come at him.
And that’s part of an explanation for why Kerr hasn’t played more than 39 to 40 minutes a game against Curry this series, even as the Celtics accumulate wins. Curry is doing so much in the time it’s out there, there’s a huge risk that yields will fall. And yes, that he could get hurt again.
“Well, we need him if we’re going to win this thing,” Thompson said. “I know Steph will do everything in his power to play. I really hope he’s okay because he’s our identity and without him it’s going to be very difficult.”
The Warriors wouldn’t need to lean on Curry as much if Thompson had scorched the Celtics earlier in the series, but he didn’t. The Warriors wouldn’t have to lean on Curry as much if Jordan Poole had a breakthrough streak, but that’s not the case – he scored 10 points in 20 minutes on Wednesday and continued to struggle, somewhere close to Celtics center Robert Williams to drive (four blocked shots in the night).
The Warriors wouldn’t have had to lean on Curry as much Wednesday if Green played his usual wild game, but he was surprisingly off rhythm the whole time with two points, four rebounds, two turnovers and six fouls.
No, once again the Warriors are relying on Curry. They’ll need Thompson, Poole, Green and others to play better than they did in the two losses this series. But the Warriors will win games when Curry takes over and they will lose them when he can’t do it all. Or if he is severely restricted by an injury.
So, as in the 2013 (before the title fight began) and 2016 (and a few smaller times after) playoffs, Curry once again has a potential injury problem in the postseason, meaning the Warriors’ championship chances are teetering on the brink.
And you could feel the Warriors’ sensitivity to all of this when Kerr was asked if allowing Curry in the game a few minutes after the incident meant that there were no concerns about Curry’s health.
“I didn’t say that,” Kerr said. “The injury didn’t put him out of the game but I eliminated him at 14 with two minutes to go because we didn’t want to catch up. … We will know more tomorrow.”
None of this is ideal for the Warriors or Curry, of course. But maybe Thursday’s diagnosis is good news for her. Or maybe Curry can just cannibalize it game after game, because there’s no way the Warriors can survive these Finals unless they win on Friday and pretty much every time thereafter. From now on it has to be won.
And I think Curry sent a message when he came to the press conference late Wednesday. He will be on the pitch on Friday and every time thereafter. The Celtics have yet to fight their way through Curry to win the championship. The problem is that the Celtics obviously understand that too.
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(Photo above: Winslow Townson / USA Today)