HOUSTON -- The presumably inevitable has been delayed by at least two days, and those days will be filled with fevered debate about Stephen Curry’s brain pan.
The Houston Rockets rose from the coroner’s cot in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final and dominated throughout en route to a 128-115 breezer to force a fifth game in Oakland Wednesday night. James Harden went from indomitable in Game 2 to inert in Game 3 to incandescent in Game 4, scoring 45 points on Hardenesque shooting (13 of 22, 7 of 11 from three), and the rest of the Rockets were simply better than the rest of the Warriors for the great bulk of the evening.
But Topic No. 1 was Curry’s cranial cap, after he landed on his head after flipping himself over Trevor Ariza on a shot-block attempt 6:02 into the second quarter. Curry missed a full quarter and 10 seconds, and the debate over whether he should have returned at all bubbled to the top as the game went into its long slow simmer.
Curry, though, made as much effort to assure the world afterward that he was not being reckless in returning as he did in returning at all.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Curry, Warriors fall in Game 4 to Rockets]
“It was the scariest fall I’ve had, though I’ve had worse symptoms before,” he said. “But I was in the air a long time, so I was a little concerned.
“Once we got in the room, we went through all the protocols, and I was actually trying to take my time, to be honest with you. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing any damage to myself or put myself in danger.”
“We all went back there, and the doctors put him through the protocols repeatedly,” general manager Bob Myers said. “The doctors made the decision, but I think we were all looking for any signs that he might not be right. We’re all pretty hypersensitive to things like concussions now, but we wouldn’t have overruled the doctors if they had said no, and I wouldn’t have held him out if they said yes unless I’d seen something that didn’t look right. But he passed the tests, he rode the bike, he ran in the hallway to get his heart rate back up, and he kept saying he wanted to play.
“Not that that mattered. Not that it was relevant, because he wasn’t making the decision, but it wasn’t irrelevant, either.”
His return, though, was largely irrelevant to any alteration of the result. The Rockets led 55-36 when he hit his head, led 78-69 when he returned, and punched the lead back out to 22 within three minutes. There was a brief suggestion that Golden State might cheat the reaper when they cut the lead to six at 104-98 on Curry’s first trey of the second half, but that was Golden State’s last intrusion on a night that was entirely Houston’s.
Harden’s night was properly illumination, but Josh Smith added 20 on 7 of 8 shooting with six rebounds and five assists, breaking the Rockets out early, and Ariza added 17 as the core of a Houston attack that produced a remarkable 128 points on only 76 shots, and out free-throwed the Warriors 25-7 as both Steve Kerr and Kevin McHale did some itinerant Haq-a-Shaqing to amuse themselves in the fourth quarter.
The other noteworthy development was Dwight Howard’s flagrant foul on Andrew Bogut (forearm to face as part of their ongoing arrhythmic tango), but Bogut, though he seemed to need a bit of time to rattle his senses back into order, finished scoreless with eight rebounds, one more area in which the Warriors came out second in the field of two.
Klay Thompson’s re-emergence from the box score doghouse in which he has been living (24, though on 21 shots) gives some reason for Kerr to think he can get both his backcourt weapons in play before this series ends, but assumptions suddenly became dangerous again. This was supposed be the game Houston took a knee, and instead the Rockets planted that knee right in Golden State’s self-congratulatory stomach, if you’ll pardon the metaphor.
There is little question that Curry will be greenlighted for Game 5 barring fresh symptoms between now and Wednesday, but the fright he put not only into his family, friends and compatriots but into the sport and the business of basketball was a sobering episode for everyone involved. It would seem, at least for now, and solely in this case, that the right decisions were made the right ways, and that the outcome was all he and they could have hoped to receive.
But the debate about concussions in general and the varied and sometimes shoddy ways in which teams handle them, is still worthwhile. Stephen Curry was lucky. As for the rest of the Warriors, they were mostly meh in a spot where the finish was there to be applied.
At least until the National Anthem ended. After that, it all went to hell.