Programming note: Watch "Warriors Playoff Central" Wednesday night at 5 p.m., and immediately after Game 5 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Both shows will be streaming live right here.
Stephen Curry’s return to Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals Monday, less than an hour after very nearly breaking his neck, should shatter any nagging doubts about one particular hurdle all truly great players must clear.
Consider Curry’s toughness officially validated.
The Warriors point guard is tough as advanced calculus after a sleepless week, tougher than gumming three pounds of jerky. Curry is as tough as rhino hide.
Those within the franchise already were aware of this. They know Curry is an undercover gangster, an unassuming young man whose competitive gene is fanged and whose cherubic face is the dirtiest kind of trick on the unsuspecting.
Do not be fooled by Curry’s slender, hipless frame or the peach fuzz fighting a losing battle to frame his face.
“Steph is very tough,” said forward Draymond Green, who through his own experience can identify toughness. “All he wants to do is win. That’s his only agenda. So, no, it didn’t surprise me one bit to see him come back.”
Curry didn’t return to the game in the middle of the third quarter to provide an emotional lift for his teammates. He came back despite a head contusion because he felt he could play. He recalled and then ignored the helplessness of his horrifying fall. He saw the spine-tingling replays. He took the X-rays. And then he charged out of the visitor’s locker room at Toyota Center as if he had sustained nothing more than a torn jersey.
“He’s a warrior,” Klay Thompson marveled of his backcourt sidekick.
“No pun intended,” Harrison Barnes concurred, “he is a warrior.”
Curry was hurt when he attempted to block a shot by Trevor Ariza with 5:52 left in the second quarter. As the Rockets forward pump-faked, Curry went soaring over the top, catching just enough of Ariza to go head over heels and land on his back and head.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Curry said, “because you try to make a play on a ball thinking he was going up for a layup and once you see that the situation changes, immediately you’re in the air, got no control over yourself and . . . it could have been a lot worse.”
The Warriors expressed concern about their franchise player, who only three weeks ago was named league MVP. The game, which resulted in a 128-115 Warriors loss, went on but it’s hard to stay focused on it with Curry’s uncertain status.
General manager Bob Myers walked away from the game for a while, planting himself in the locker room, where he could observe the doctors and trainers and, of course, Curry.
“I didn’t question their competency,” Myers said of the medical personnel. “I just watched. If they asked me a question, I answered it and supported him. I asked Steph myself (if he was OK), but it’s really the doctors who make that call. If I saw something myself that I didn’t like, I’d certainly say so. But I think they really were thorough in their evaluation.”
They were thorough enough for Curry, who got to his feet, did some dribbling and running and made his way back to the court.
He didn’t have to. The Warriors, holding a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, were trailing big on the road and well aware that a Game 5 would take place at Oracle Arena. It would easy and perhaps prudent if Curry shut it down until Wednesday.
That’s not in Curry’s DNA. He’s wired to scrap. It’s what he did when college recruiters ignored him, when he led little Davidson College to the NCAA Tournament and when his skinny ankles tried to undermine his career.
And he succeeded every time.
He’s not going to stop now.
So consider this yet another barrier Curry has shattered. Is he good enough to make an impact in college? Check. Is he good enough to play in the NBA? Check. Can he stay healthy? Check. Is he capable of leading an NBA team to great heights? Check.
And now this: Is Curry tough? The answer is practically stamped on his head.