OAKLAND, Calif. -- After Friday night's 102-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Stephen Curry trudged across the locker room in his blue flip-flops, limping only slightly on his twisted left ankle. What might have been a hopeful sign turned grim when the shaky gait didn't stop there. Curry continued out of the locker room, escorted, down the hallway exit. It was then that he turned wobbly, walk deteriorating into a hop as the figure grew smaller, disappearing down the long corridor. No questions taken, no proclamations. Just treatment and uncertainty for a man whose early career has already seen so much treatment and uncertainty.
One thing is certain: The San Antonio Spurs are in control of this series, and not so long after premature declarations of their demise. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry switched roles in Game 3. The result was a broken Curry and what looks, at first glance, like a damaged Warriors team.
Parker was victimized in Games 1 and 2, hounded by a long wing in Klay Thompson and attacked on defense by whichever Golden State player he guarded. San Antonio's best offensive player looked exhausted as he slogged through it, making 41 percent of his shots. At Oracle Arena, Parker finally sprung loose with a 25-point first-half explosion. The shots were largely at the distance Golden State would prefer from the expert slasher; they just kept falling because he wasn't guarded tightly enough.
"We'll live with [Parker] shooting jumpers but not uncontested jumpers," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
Parker himself explained.
"I knocked down three or four shots. I was able to go right and create for my teammates. I think it was pretty good the way I started and opened up for me and my teammates," he said.
Curry did not find points so easily, as the lengthy Danny Green harassed him in much the way Thompson had bothered Parker in the first two games. The normally accurate Curry was 5-of-17 on the night, with all but one miss coming before his fourth-quarter ankle sprain. With the Warriors down nine points with five minutes left, Curry had seemed to shake free of a dogged Green with a pump fake above the arc. It was then that the left ankle -- injured earlier in Game 2 against the Denver Nuggets -- turned into the floor.
Golden State's long odds at a comeback wholly vanished, although Curry waved off a substitution and stayed in the game. The offense was inefficiently run by Jarrett Jack as Curry mostly stood in the corner, helplessly watching his team squander chances.
Curry wasn't the only Golden State player haunted by a familiar malady. To stave off a Warriors run, Gregg Popovich resorted to intentionally fouling Andrew Bogut, who shanked three of four free throws. Bogut shoots a shade better than 57 percent from the line for his career, but Popovich had reason to believe Bogut was worse than that figure suggests.
"I was never a great free throw shooter, and since the elbow injury, it's not great, not where it needs to be," Bogut said. "It's frustrating for me as a player, but if I was the coach of their team, I'd probably do the same thing."
So after seizing seeming control of the series, this is where the Warriors are. They're vulnerable to Popovich tactics and hurting in the literal sense. This series might not be a forgone conclusion, but if it trends that way, Warriors fans might look back to Game 1, the double-overtime loss in which Stephen Curry played a full 58 minutes. That might have been where their star expended too much energy, leading to a situation in which his shot and ankles were less sure.
When asked whether there was a connection between Curry's heavy minutes and subsequent inaccuracy later on, Jackson said, "No. He missed shots. That's what it boils down to." It's hard to know whether the earlier minutes caused this bad situation and harder still to see how Golden State can overcome the healthier Spurs, who, as Jackson put it, "Execute you to death."
For now, the Warriors are sweating on the figurative gallows. It's difficult to beat the Spurs when healthy, let alone when your superstar is hurt.