The absence of Stephen Curry has kept the Houston Rockets relevant, but the window might be closing on their significance to this postseason.
With the expected return of the league's scoring leader and reigning MVP, the Golden State Warriors hope to realign their title defense when they go for a split in Houston on Sunday.
The Warriors' chances to sweep this series were lost with a rare defeat in Game 3 without Curry, who left the opener last Saturday with a sprained right ankle.
Curry is officially listed as questionable for Sunday, but Steve Kerr said Saturday that he expects Curry to play. The MVP himself had some thoughts after Friday's practice.
"I think I can play through a little bit of discomfort and whatnot, especially in a playoff situation," Curry said.
"Obviously, if I'm playing I'll be aggressive, I'll do exactly what I usually do when I'm out there on the floor, whether I make or miss shots. And I think we'll live with that, as long as I'm on the court."
That last part is important. The only thing keeping Houston in this series has been Curry's absence. He scored 24 points in an easy 104-78 win in the opener, but the Rockets drew closer with Monday's 115-106 loss before breaking through with Thursday's 97-96 win - just their second in 16 games against the Warriors.
The Rockets' victory was sealed on James Harden's stepback jumper with 2.7 seconds left - aided by a Michael Jordan-esque push-off the NBA later said should have been an offensive foul, one of four admitted missed calls in the final two minutes.
Harden has made only 39.1 percent of his shots in this series, including 29.6 from 3-point range. However, he has posted 63 points and 20 assists the last two games.
''The last shot was typical of what James does,'' coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. ''The move, we've seen before. The finish, we've seen before. You do get spoiled by it at times, but in these biggest of moments, you can't help but appreciate it.''
Golden State shot just 43 percent in Game 3, well below its league-best 48.7 during the regular season. Granted, it was still better than the 42.9 posted in the opener with Curry.
But things just didn't click for the Warriors the way they did all season long with the ball in their star's hands. The final chance to win on Thursday went to Draymond Green, and he dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds.
Green finished with nine points, seven rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers.
''I cost us the game,'' he said. ''The world will think I'm talking about that last turnover but I'm not. That happens. I was awful the whole game. I care about that turnover, but I cost us the game way before then.''
Marreese Speights was the only Warrior to eclipse 20 points with 22, far more than the 7.1 he averaged in the regular season. Klay Thompson poured in 34 in Game 2 but finished with half that on Thursday on 7-of-20 shooting, missing all seven of his 3s. Shaun Livingston, starting in place of Curry, added 16 points.
Speights didn't attempt a 3-pointer in his first 29 playoff games but is 4 of 9 in this series and knocked down 3 of 6 on Thursday. Surprisingly, he was the only Warrior to make more than one as they finished at 24 percent, their worst showing from deep in 24 games.
Curry should improve those numbers. He broke - shattered, really - his own record with 402 made 3s this season while shooting 45.4 percent from deep.