OAKLAND -- Stephen Curry goes 0-for-3 about as often as James Harden gets no free throws – and in this playoff series, they both have done it once.
Game 1 of the Western Conference hockey series went as expected, with Golden State slapping most of the face off the Houston Rockets, 104-78 – slightly more lopsided than your standard 1-8 introductory game but certainly not out of the ordinary, or did you forget Miami 100, New York 67 in 2012?
And the game was a typically physical one, with Curry and Houston pest-in-chief Patrick Beverley getting into a bit of a thing less than halfway through the first quarter, Draymond Green getting a two-point takedown on Donatas Motiejunas midway through the fourth, and some other moments of high chip/no chop throughout this largely lopsided game.
But Curry’s touchy right ankle, caused when he pivoted after a shot with 2:10 left in the half near the Warrior bench, was the bridge between Saturday’s rout and Monday’s Game 2. He “tweaked” (the medical term for “minimally diagnosed owie”) the ankle, came out of the game at 1:07 and did not re-enter, much to his surprise and chagrin.
“He saw I was writing the five players’ names on the board who I’m sending out (for the second half),” head coach Steve Kerr said, “and he saw his name wasn’t on there and he was incredulous. And I said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re moving right now.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and of course he’s going to say that . . . but we’re not going to let him play if he has a chance of making it worse.
“I tried three separate times, and I went 0-for-3,” Curry said when asked to describe how vehemently he tried to change Kerr’s mind. “I even went to Luke (former head coach Luke Walton) at one point, and I even went to Coach Q (Bruce Fraser) to try to get some help. We all swung and missed.”
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None was forthcoming, and Curry missed the final 25 minutes of a game the Warriors were never in danger of losing . . . perhaps in part because Harden most notably could not draw any fouls in search of free throws, couldn’t shake himself free for many open looks, and in general was a model of offensive inertia.
“We really didn’t have a lot of movement offensively,” Harden said afterward. “It kind of stagnated our offense, we didn’t get a lot of open shots like we usually do.”
“They’re setting up to stop him from dragging right now,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said in concurrence. “Their four men just flood the paint on his penetration. They put two or three guys on him.”
And it worked so well that center Dwight Howard couldn’t make much of a dent in the game, and the support staff combined to make only 18 of 49 shots, draw only enough fouls to get seven free throws, throw the ball away 24 times and in general look as eight-seedy as eight-seedy gets.
It seems unlikely that the rest of the series will be much different, but as Draymond Green (12/10/4 in 33 minutes) said, “One thing we know about the playoffs is every game is different, so next game won’t be the same. Can it have the same outcome? If we come out and play our brand of basketball, it could. But we’re not coming out expecting that.”
Not only that, the Warriors are playing coy (or truthfully don’t know, though I’d heavily bet the former) about Curry’s availability for Game 2. While Howard tried to have the last word when asked about fixing Houston’s stuttering attack by saying, “Well, we got one choice. Do it or lose,” it is far more likely that Harden and Curry will speak more loudly about this series’ destiny.
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Neither man plans to go oh-fer again in their particular categories the rest of this series, but unlike Howard, Curry’s chances rest for the moment not with himself but the team’s training hydra and his own silver tongue.
I mean, we get that he couldn’t move Kerr, who has some proud Scots obstinacy in his blood, but not getting anything from Walton or Fraser means he is down to Ron Adams, Jarron Collins, Jerry West, Bob Myers, and if worse comes to worst, Joe Lacob himself.
Frankly, and this may be one of the very rare times you see this sentence typed anywhere, I do not like Stephen Curry’s chances here. Not unless he can get a note from his foot saying he’s good to go, that is. And if he is green-lighted, Green’s position that every game is different from the one before it may be challenged as well.