The only problem? Nearly half of the players pictured are dealing with various maladies entering Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday. While the Warriors have long taken great pains to avoid marketing themselves in typical NBA fashion — “Stephen Curry and his supporting cast” — a rash of injuries has left them increasingly reliant upon their all-star point guard.
Kevin Durant, Curry’s co-headliner for the past three seasons, will not play in Game 3 as he continues to recover from a calf strain. Klay Thompson, Curry’s fellow “Splash Brother,” is questionable after straining his hamstring in a Game 2 victory. Kevon Looney, a backup center whom Coach Steve Kerr recently referred to as a “foundational piece,” is out for the season after fracturing cartilage in his collarbone in Game 2.
DeMarcus Cousins, who was thrust into the Game 2 starting lineup, is still working his way back from a quad injury. Damian Jones, anther backup center, lasted just six minutes in the Western Conference finals after missing five months with a pectoral injury. And Andre Iguodala, whose clutch three-pointer sealed a 109-104 win Sunday, will continue to play through a bothersome leg injury.
Not to be lost in the avalanche of medical updates: Curry is playing through a left finger sprain that still requires tape more than a month after he suffered the injury.
“This is just the way it goes,” Kerr said Tuesday, shrugging his way through a litany of health questions. “We have been playing 100-plus games for five years now. We have a lot of guys who have played long, difficult seasons. There’s a certain amount of luck involved. We’ve been on both sides of that: Some of our opponents have suffered injuries, and we’ve suffered injuries. You just keep pushing forward.”
Golden State pulled even with Toronto thanks to an impressive group effort on the road, which featured an 18-0 third-quarter run, steely play by Thompson and Iguodala’s late-game heroics. But Curry’s central role in the victory, and in leading Golden State to a 6-1 record since Durant was lost to injury, must not be overlooked or understated. As the Warriors have “pushed forward,” they have saddled Curry with a much heavier burden than usual.
The splits in Curry’s workload tell a clean story. Before Durant’s injury, he was averaging 23 points, five assists, 17 shot attempts and five free throw attempts in the playoffs. Since Durant’s injury, he is up to 34 points, six assists, 22 shots and nine free throw attempts. Before Durant’s injury, he averaged 77 touches and possessed the ball for six minutes per game during the playoffs. Since, he is up to 86 touches and seven minutes of possession time.
Simply put, Curry is dribbling more, running the offense more, shooting more, driving more, passing more, absorbing more contact and scoring dramatically more than he did before Durant’s injury.
These are not the efforts of a misguided martyr, either. While their offensive efficiency has slipped without their all-star forward, the Warriors have posted a 113.7 offensive rating since Durant’s injury — a better mark than any other team has managed in the playoffs. Curry’s increased individual efforts are directly translating to team success.
“He’s grown [in] his understanding of what needs to happen,” Kerr said, “what he needs to do when other guys are out. Game-management stuff. But he’s always been the same person. I think that’s the beauty of Steph. He doesn’t change. He’s a rock. Our guys lean on him all the time.”
That is bound to continue in Game 3, given that Thompson will be less than 100 percent if he plays. Thompson said that he “hates missing games” and that his leg had shown “progress” since Sunday night, when he injured it falling to the court after a jumper. The shooting guard added, though, that he wouldn’t risk an aggravation by playing through persistent pain because the Finals “could be a longer series.”
During Thompson’s absence down the stretch of Game 2, the Raptors unveiled a box-and-one defense — a scheme that is designed to pay extra attention to the opposing team’s star and to protect the paint while daring supporting players to shoot from the perimeter.
Toronto’s unexpected ploy threw off Golden State for an extended stretch, at least until a wide-open Iguodala buried a three-pointer from the left wing to effectively end the game. Curry was held without a point or a shot attempt in the fourth quarter, and he later said the box-and-one was a “janky” defense that he hadn’t faced since his college days.
Kerr praised the change-of-pace strategy, which is rarely seen on the NBA level, but Raptors star Kawhi Leonard said he doesn’t expect it to feature prominently as the Finals unfold.
“Probably not,” Leonard said, noting that Toronto used it because Golden State was shorthanded. “Klay definitely wasn’t on the floor at that time. There’s no telling when KD’s going to come back, either. I don’t think it will work.”
Even so, the Raptors will continue to deploy extra defensive attention against Curry as long as Thompson is limited and Durant is sidelined. The Warriors responded to that pressure by sending cutters through the paint and along the baselines in Game 2, with Cousins and Draymond Green repeatedly finding success as passers.
Toronto should be better prepared and more familiar with those counters in Game 3, placing the pressure back on Curry to attack off the dribble aggressively and cash in whenever he is able to free himself on the perimeter. If he continues to pick up the slack and dissect the Raptors, Curry will be in line for his first Finals MVP award.
“Honestly, I don’t need anybody’s validation or praise,” Curry said. “I love playing for championships and being on this stage. We’re very locked in and focused on adapting to the circumstances that are thrown at us right now. There’s been a lot of injuries and uncertainty of even who is going to play. We have been through a lot, had a lot of different experiences. This is just adding to that book.”