Fortune is a funny thing. When it’s good, it’s abstract, and easily dismissed. In the past year the Golden State Warriors, have certainly had it in spades. But amid consistent, protracted basketball dominance like this? The sample size, as they say, is significant. Where’s the luck in blowout after blowout victory? It’s no fun to give fate all the credit, especially not when the results tend to be decisive.
But when the breaks run bad, and Stephen Curry’s right foot slips in a puddle of sweat on a meaningless play? Golden State’s remarkable serendipity over the past calendar year had never been more crystal clear. Just one half into his return from a right ankle injury, Curry hobbled off with a sprained right knee on Sunday. Sure, those body parts are connected, but without dripping-wet Donatas Motiejunas tumbling to the ground seconds earlier, there’s nothing to slip on. The butterfly effect-style helplessness of the video replay does nobody any favors. It’s chaos theory at work.
Opposing fans cheered as Curry entered the tunnel, behavior that was morally questionable, but completely telling. At that point, a series without Curry was one the Rockets could, in theory, win. The game was tied at half with the home team playing its best ball of the series. He tested it out in warmups and returned to the locker room looking frustrated. There was hope in Houston, at least for a few minutes.
But as the third quarter began, the greater doubts surrounding his absence overshadowed an 8–1 Warriors run, which begat a 21-point lead just 12 minutes later. Golden State buckled down for a 121–94 Game 4 win that all but seals the series with a 3–1 lead, draining a playoff-record 21 three-pointers in the process. Steph or no Steph, the Rockets needed this one to extend their puncher’s odds. True to their nature, the switch flipped off.
Golden State, of course, knew that too. After narrowly dropping Game 3, the decision to give into Curry’s competitive inclinations and let him play seemed sound enough. He appeared to be moving fine in his 18 minutes of play, though his stroke (2-of-9 from the field) and rhythm (five turnovers) were off. That never seems to last with him, anyway. The final two quarters of Game 4 certainly support the case for resting him . Maybe Curry should have sat the whole thing out, but maybe he needed to get re-acclimated after a week or so off. No matter how you choose to play the what if game, we’re now an MRI away from postseason disarray.
Look, maybe eager Golden State foreseers (and honestly, who’s not guilty?) fell prey to their own excitement. With the very real odds of Curry potentially missing time, it’s worth remembering: a second Finals battle with the Cavs hangs on a showdown versus the Spurs or Thunder, which requires a successful grudge match against the Clippers, and first-things-first, one more victory against the Rockets. No matter how great these 73-win Warriors are, that’s a lot more hoops to jump through.
Working in their favor? The rest of the team pulled together admirably on Sunday, in a game that could have gone plenty of directions after Curry hit the locker room. Klay Thompson scored 23 points in 30 minutes and was mostly a perplexing cover for Houston. Draymond Green was very much everywhere, from the 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists and a plus-34 rating. Andre Iguodala added 22 off the bench. There’s plenty to complete the task back at Oracle Arena for Game 5 on Wednesday. But beyond that? For the first time in months, it’s impossible to guess with confidence.