Stephen Curry expects to play in Game 4, but final decision won't be his
HOUSTON – What the Golden State Warriors see from Stephen Curry means a lot more than what he says to them these days. Curry is the franchise, the center of a universe owner Joe Lacob believes is "light-years ahead" of the rest of the league. But while that gives him some say, Curry doesn't have the final word – which is a blessing at a time when the Warriors attempt to win a first-round series against the Houston Rockets without risking the health of their soon-to-be two-time most valuable player.
Tired of being a cheerleader behind the scenes, Curry is expected to return Sunday for Game 4 of this best-of-seven series after missing the past two games. He stated on Friday that he would be "very" surprised if he weren't cleared to play on his once-troublesome, twice-surgically-repaired right ankle.
Anyone who doubts Curry's confidence needs only observe how he treats any shot inside halfcourt as his legitimate range. But Curry was so assured, perhaps arrogrant, in his belief that he would play in both games in Houston that he refused to pack a suit to serve as a spectator on the bench. That stubborn faith meant Curry had to watch the Warriors' 97-96 loss from the locker room, no doubt increasing his eagerness to get back on the court. Curry doesn't plan to have a repeat of that disappointment, nor will he prepare for anything except being on the active roster.
"I will not be going to any suit store," Curry said
Curry is beyond anxious to play after being relatively inactive since getting hurt in the first half of the Warriors' Game 1 victory last Saturday. That was the game when Warriors general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and the training staff realized that Curry can be both competitive and convincing as he urged them to let him in the second half. They listened, then watched him founder on the court for three minutes before Kerr saved Curry from himself by keeping his star stuck on a cushy leather seat for the rest of the game.
Knowing full well he shouldn't play no matter how much he would love to be back tossing up feathery jumpers from 35 feet, Curry has accepted sitting the past two games. Given Curry's history of ankle problems, the Warriors can't be faulted for being especially overprotective and patient. But Curry has been begging for some leeway,
"I'm sure coach and the athletic training staff are on similar wavelengths, with being more on the precautious side," Curry said. "I've been pretty honest about how I feel, making sure I don't do anything to damage my ankle even further, or put myself in a bad position. So you want to get the proper feedback and not hide things. Along with that, I think I can play through a little discomfort and whatnot, especially in a playoff situation. They have the thought, if there is any ounce of instability or doubt, to be on the more cautious side. So, any player that loves to play the game and wants to take advantage of these opportunities in the playoffs is going to push to get out there. They have my best interests but it's kind of hard to take that advice and to sit out, because it's a tough feeling."
Curry passed his first test toward a return on Friday, when he teamed up with Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo to go three-on-three against Brandon Rush, Ian Clark and assistant Luke Walton. Kerr said Curry moved well and didn't report any pain during Friday's practice. Curry added that he's "pretty close" to being pain free in the ankle. Surviving more intense workouts without soreness would spare Curry from pushing harder for a comeback, which makes his participation in a five-on-five scrimmage on Saturday the final exam.
"I don't know if there will have to be any lobbying, if he's fine. If he's lobbying, it'll only be because he's not right," Kerr said. "So, we're hoping that everything goes smoothly and that he's able to go and that we don't have to debate about it."
The Warriors have already completed a historic regular season and need a title to cement their status as an all-time team, but none of that can happen if Curry is unable to play or hobbling in any way. They could easily be entering Sunday's game looking to complete a sweep of the dysfunctional Rockets – especially after the NBA declared James Harden's game-winning jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining should've have counted because he pushed off Andre Iguodala.
Having Curry back would open the floor so much more for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors' other All-Stars who had subpar games in the loss. But risking his health by rushing him back could have unfortunate consequences. Kerr didn't want to throw Curry on the court for Game 3 after being inactive for so long and wanted to take advantage of the extended break between games. Curry believes he has missed enough time.
"Any time you miss a game, it's tough. We fought hard to get back in the game. That fight and competitiveness is what we need. Work on the details and I think we'll be in great shape," Curry said. "I don't think we have that thought process that we can get by without me, that that was a smart decision. As much as I might've disagreed [with sitting out Game 3], we went with it."
Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said his team is already preparing as if Curry will be in uniform on Sunday. And, Curry will have a more difficult time sitting out Game 4, since it would be more than a week since he last played. Kerr said if Curry does play, the team would have to probably keep him on a minutes restriction, more so for conditioning purposes. Curry acknowledges that there might be some rust in his return but the effort will be the same.
"If I'm playing, I'll be aggressive. I'll do exactly what I usually do," Curry said. "So you just stick to the process and hopefully Sunday, I can get as close to 100 percent as possible and get confidence from everybody that I am ready to go."
More NBA content from The Vertical: