New revelations have created for a sad story in the Western Conference playoffs. The Golden State Warriors‘ Stephen Curry only missed three games during the regular season this year. They won two and lost one, with the big blow being a 23-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
When Curry sprained his ankle in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors finished off a 26-point win and beat them again in Game 2. They lost Game 3 by one point, but saw Curry return in Game 4. And even though the Warriors took a 3-1 series lead to beat down the Rockets yet again, this time by 27 points, they lost Curry to yet another injury.
He likely won’t rush back out onto the court anytime soon, either, with an MCL sprain reportedly keeping him out at least two weeks. Barring an implosion of epic proportions and Golden State losing three consecutive games to a mediocre Rockets team, they’ll be moving on to the second round of the playoffs — unfortunately, without Curry.
It’s unfortunate for him as a player as well as his entire team, but there are many others who will feel the negative effects of this injury. It’s still unclear which team the Warriors might play in the second round, with the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers series tied at 2-2.
The Clippers, for their part, have seen some injury woes as well — they just lost Chris Paul to a broken hand and Blake Griffin is dealing with a quad injury. The advantage in the series, right now, has to go to the Blazers.
How does all of this change the way we view the playoffs in the Western Conference? What was once seen as a tournament of also-ran’s alongside the juggernauts — the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs — has now been thrown out of whack. Could we realistically see the Warriors exit the playoffs prior to the Western Conference Finals? It’s hard to envision it, but to say that it’s impossible ignores the run the Blazers have been on in the second half of the season.
After starting the year just 15-24, Portland went 29-14 the rest of the way and vaulted themselves all the way to fifth in the standings in the West. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are playing out their minds out right now, so at the very least it’s no slam dunk that the Warriors can move on if Curry can’t play.
As for the greater perspective, this has to make the Spurs the favorite for the NBA championship now. Even assuming the Warriors can get through to the conference finals, there’s no guarantee that Curry will return and play at his MVP-caliber level right away. Against the swarming defense of the Spurs? Even less likely.
San Antonio was often overlooked in a season that was all about the Warriors and their chase for 73 regular-season victories, but they were historically great as well. They won 67 games this year, which is the most by a team that didn’t finish first in their conference and is tied for the fourth-most wins in a season in NBA history.
The downside for San Antonio? The Curry injury robs them of the chance to legitimately take on and defeat the vaunted Warriors. If the Spurs win the championship, they’ll be stuck with an inevitable asterisk, as many won’t remember them for their merit but instead for the unfortunate circumstances that befell their foes.
Probably most overlooked is how Curry’s injury negatively impacts NBA fans. A matchup of a healthy Warriors team and the Spurs at full strength in the playoffs is a once-in-a-lifetime dream for basketball fans. There’s a decent chance that Curry might be out on the floor playing against the Spurs yet this year, so there’s no need to think of this as a eulogy. But there is serious concern over whether we’ll see the same caliber of basketball.
Curry’s injury is unfortunate and it puts a damper on what has been one of the most exciting and entertaining story lines in recent NBA history. Injuries happen, and sometimes the timing is poor. Just ask Derrick Rose, as his season ended when he tore his ACL with a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1 in the first round of the playoffs back in 2011-12.
Hopefully, Curry will recover quickly and return to play at his signature high level. Otherwise, we’ll never know what may have happened in the postseason this year.
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