HOUSTON -- Before Stephen Curry limped onto the team bus, he convened with, among others, Active Faith Sports CEO Lanny Smith, founder of a faith-based apparel company Curry has equity ownership in. Smith’s own path to the NBA was cut short by a series of gruesome injuries, making it all the harder to absorb a sight that has left basketball fans stricken. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach,” Smith said. “But I just wanted to show him some support.”
Curry’s team-employed bodyguard Ralph Walker, whose head is on a vigilant swivel, closed his eyes and bowed as the group prayed in unison. Everything Curry worked for this season is under threat, betrayed by his body, torn asunder by a damp floorboard. With a bag of popcorn dangling from his hand -- Curry’s requested snack in every road arena -- he and his group prayed that the injury might go away.
The Golden State Warriors are up 3-1 in their series against the Houston Rockets after a 121-94 victory in Game 4 on Sunday, yet these are grim times. Steve Kerr communicated more empathy than hope when asked about his superstar.
“Feel bad for Steph, but we gotta move on,” the Warriors' coach said.
There will be an MRI on Monday, which could bring a cold clarity to the situation. Early indications point to a knee sprain, possibly an MCL sprain. Even optimistic speculation has the MVP missing games. If this isn’t the end of the road for Curry’s season, it’s at least a break in the journey. For the journey to continue, teammates must play above and beyond.
That they were able to on Sunday says something about the difference between athletes and fans. Fans were bereft when Curry slipped at the end of the half. The injury made for a sickening sight, but Golden State’s players kept their stomachs in order. They responded, with force.
On how the Warriors were capable of this after witnessing a scene that had their fans in mourning, Shaun Livingston explained: “Because we still got to play. Can’t focus on things that we can’t control. Got to focus on being in the moment, on the court. If one of us goes down, that’s what he has to do.”
Make no mistake, teammates love Curry. They were also able to find lightness amid this troubling turn of events. After the game, jokes still flew around the locker room. Even Curry could crack a smile, when, as media rushed at him, he summarized, “I slipped. I fell. I’m hurt. My team is awesome. The end.”
“We showed a lot of character tonight,” Andrew Bogut said of a team that crushed Houston in the aftermath of disaster. Of their mentality, Bogut said, “It’s tough. Steph’s our leader and MVP. But at the same time, without sounding insensitive to Steph, we’ve got a game we’re trying to win.”
Bogut believes Curry will be fine. Other Warriors conveyed a need to hold it down until his return.
On the team’s mood, Draymond Green said, “Obviously after the win we feel good, but also worried.” He added, “We also know we can still get it done. Confident, worried, tons of emotions.”
When a hurt Curry was desperate to return to action, Green advised his teammate, “Do what you got to do. We’ll handle business.” Green was brilliant in Curry’s absence, spearheading the third-quarter attack with quick-release 3-pointers that evoked the fallen MVP. Green celebrated his makes with a defiant swagger, relishing Houston’s demise as the viewing audience was surely contemplating Golden State’s. Klay Thompson was quieter throughout his 3-point barrage, but no less deadly. Andre Iguodala was subtler in his impact, but no less powerful.
According to Green, the Warriors didn’t watch film at halftime, as they usually do. Instead, Kerr exhorted his team, “We’ve got to play for Steph.” The players came out roaring, swarming the Rockets on defense, pushing the pace on offense and besieging them with 3s. If that’s the last memorable show of force from Golden State’s offense this season, it certainly was glorious.
The Warriors don’t intend to give up, though, regardless of what Monday’s MRI might say. “Stay in the moment,” Livingston offered as an ethos. It’s a dark moment in Golden State, but the Warriors try to live inside it, insulated from its implications. If they just focus on the basketball, maybe, just maybe, they'll survive long enough for their leader’s return. In the meantime, their leader can only hope and pray.