It has quickly turned into the talk of the NBA playoffs: Golden State Warriors megastar point guard, and soon-to-be back-to-back NBA MVP, Steph Curry, exited Sunday’s game in Houston with a knee injury. On Monday, the Warriors revealed that he sprained his MCL and the team ruled him out for at least two weeks, at which point he will be reevaluated.
The fallout from Curry’s knee injury likely won’t take affect in the first round, as Golden State went on to destroy the Rockets 121-94 without him on Sunday and took a 3-1 lead in the series. The Warriors should have no problem finishing off Houston without their best player. In all likelihood, the Warriors could bench their entire starting lineup and still beat the embarrassingly underachieving Rockets.
I was in the process of writing an article explaining why the Warriors would need Curry to return at some point in the second round in order to beat the Clippers. But when Chris Paul broke his hand on Monday night in Portland, likely ending his season, the tone of this article changed significantly. Then on Tuesday, in more shocking news, the Clippers announced that all-star forward Blake Griffin would miss the remainder of the playoffs after reaggravating a left quadriceps injury. Now the tone of this article has changed drastically.
Not only are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the two most awkwardly funny pitchmen in the NBA, they’re also the two best players on the Clippers. Without Paul and Griffin, and with the series knotted at two games each, the Clippers will probably drop the next two games against the Blazers and see yet another season end disappointingly early.
The Warriors may be breathing a slight sigh of relief since the Blazers are a much more beatable foe than the Clippers would be at full strength. Still, this is no gimme for Golden State. I’m not discrediting the Warriors sans Curry, they obviously have a great team. But if you take the best player off of any NBA team, their chances of winning a championship are close to zero, and their chances of winning any playoff series drop significantly (as supported by my prediction of the Clippers crumbling). Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are very good players. But if you remove Steph Curry from that roster, the Warriors go from a team that just set the NBA record for wins in a season, to a team that would probably be the fourth or fifth seed in the Western Conference right now.
When Kevin Durant missed most of last season with a foot injury, the Thunder failed to even make the playoffs, despite an MVP-caliber year from Russell Westbrook. This year, Durant stayed healthy and got back to elite form, and Oklahoma City is one of the top four teams in the NBA. It’s a team game, but it’s also a star driven league.
It’s hard to predict how this is going to play out for the Warriors, because of how the team is handling Steph Curry’s injury. He was diagnosed with a Grade 1 MCL sprain, which is the least severe type of sprain, and seemed like the best news possible for Warriors fans. But declaring him out for at least two weeks before being reevaluated is a reaction fit for a more severe injury.
Houston-based orthopedic surgeon Mark Adickes joined SportsCenter on Monday to discuss the injury. Adickes was surprised the Warriors were ruling Curry out for so long. He explained that typically a player can return within days from a Grade 1 MCL sprain and might not even need to miss a game. Adickes then speculated that Curry may be dealing with a bone bruise, or a more serious injury. And his speculating got me speculating…
The second round is scheduled to start May 2, at which point Steph Curry will still be a week away from his reevaluation. If Curry is ready to return as soon as he hits his two week mark, he will likely only miss the first three games of that series. Factoring in the recent bad news from Los Angeles, Golden State should be fine without him for the for the first three or four games against Portland, but they will probably need some help from the Baby-Faced Assassin to finish off the Blazers. And they will definitely need him to be close to 100% to beat the San Antonio Spurs, or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
The NBA Playoffs typically come down the best team that stays healthy. The fact that the Warriors are taking such a cautious approach with Steph Curry tells me there is reason to be concerned. When players suffer serious (or even semi-serious) injuries in the playoffs, they’re rarely able to recover quickly enough to perform at their best. I have a bad feeling that Curry’s injury will linger, forcing him off the court sporadically. There’s also the fear of Curry reaggravating the injury and missing more games, or being shut down for the season.
The uncertainty surrounding Steph Curry is enough for me to switch my Western Conference Champion pick from the Warriors to the Spurs. It might seem like I’m overreacting, and sure, I might alter this prediction if Curry shockingly returns in game one of the second round, scores 45 points and shows no sign of being affected by his knee injury. But in the NBA Playoffs, you only go as far as your star players take you. And when the biggest star in the league gets injured, it changes the whole picture.