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When news broke Monday that Steph Curry had a Grade 1 knee sprain and would be re-evaluated in two weeks, most people heard this: It’s not an ACL! He’ll be back in two weeks!
Not so fast.
A Grade1 knee sprain means there’s slight damage; the ligaments are stretched but not torn, and the knee still has stability. If you’re going to sprain a knee, this is the mildest way to do it.
But the most important part of Monday’s announcement was this: “He will be re-evaluated in two weeks.”
Sorry, but in no way does that suggest he’ll be ready to play in two weeks, no matter how mild the sprain.
That two-week evaluation will assess what he’s been able to accomplish between now and then. Are these two weeks going to be productive? Has the swelling gone down enough for him to begin rehabbing the injury? Can he tolerate weight-bearing activity? Change directions? Start and stop?
Can he be Steph Curry?
If he can’t do anything, if activity is limited to rest, ice and compression, then those two weeks become even longer.
For Curry to make a successful return to playoff-caliber basketball, his rehab will have to restore his timing and conditioning because his game involves so much quick change of speed and direction; his style of play requires an extremely high level of agility. He’s not explosive like Russell Westbrook, but he’ll beat you with quickness, both physically and mentally, not just up and down the court but in all directions, at all speeds.
It won’t be enough for him to receive the inevitable verdict that he’s been “cleared for basketball activity.” There’s basketball activity, and then there’s Steph Curry.
Keep in mind, there’s also the ankle issue. Remember, before Sunday’s knee injury, Curry missed the preceding game with an ankle sprain. I know everyone is looking at the replay of the knee sprain and saying, “It was just one of those things.” But in this case, if you really look at how he tweaked the ankle, you’ll understand that it wasn’t “just a slip.” Without a doubt, that weakened ankle contributed to the knee sprain; when he slipped on the court, the ankle instability couldn’t help protect the knee. The entire body is a chain: one rusty link puts extra stress on the other links and weakens the entire chain.
Curry was wearing an ankle brace when the knee injury occurred, and it’s a reasonable bet that the brace jeopardized the knee. Why? Because while the ankle is immobilized, what's the next point of vulnerability? The knee. The stress moves right up the chain.
No question Steph needs the brace to stabilize the ankle, but there are risks associated with that. Ankle braces are supposed to prevent sprains, but what happens when you brace something? You’re giving added support from an outside source. When the body gets something from an outside source, it stops doing what it’s supposed to do naturally. So instead of the ankle protecting itself, it relies on the brace and ultimately weakens the entire chain up the body. End result: Increased risk of other lower-body injuries.
Ankle stability is everything: The stronger your lower legs, the more explosive you’ll be in all directions: laterally, forward, backward, vertical, stop and go. Think of yourself as a race car: Your horsepower comes from the calves up; your ankles are the tires. In the middle of a race the pit crew doesn’t change the engine, it changes the tires so the car can keep performing. Weak tires, weak race.
I’d be interested to know if the brace, tape or shoes were modified after the ankle injury, possibly causing the knee to track in a different way.
Curry’s successful return will rely heavily on the Golden State training staff, which deserves tremendous credit for keeping this season’s team strong and relatively injury-free. I’ve worked with several of those players in the past – Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala after serious injuries – and I know the challenges of keeping athletes healthy throughout an entire season, especially when they’re playing every night and breaking records and not letting up.
For the Warriors, don’t look for them to make excuses. Curry might be their best player but on this team, everyone has the ability to step up. So many teams completely implode when things don’t go according to plan; you can just see the air go out of them. Many teams would have shut down if their six-time NBA champion head coach had to leave the team as Steve Kerr did, leaving them with the untested Luke Walton. But this team didn't use Walton's inexperience as an excuse. It didn’t settle for playing as well as it did last season; it came back and played even better.
Lots of talk Monday about how Curry’s absence will give the Clippers the break they’ve needed, their big chance to get to the Finals. Well, as of this writing, the Clippers still have to get past the Blazers, and Golden State is still playing the Rockets.
Can’t move on to “next” until you accomplish “now.”
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Tim S. Grover is the CEO of ATTACK Athletics, world-renowned for his work with championship and Hall of Fame athletes including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and hundreds more. An international authority on performance and motivation, he appears as a keynote speaker for corporations and sports organizations, and is the best-selling author of Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. Follow Tim @ATTACKATHLETICS on Twitter and Instagram, and visit http://www.attackathletics.com for more.
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