Last week, Warriorsworld/ESPN basketball writer Ethan Sherwood Strauss was our guest on BASGcast. We talked a bit about Stephen Curry, and I voiced my opinion — we’re all still holding our breath, waiting for ankle explosion. It’s hard to enjoy the great things Curry does when you’re subconsciously expecting his styrofoam ankle to pull the rug out from under us while we dare stand up and cheer (Strauss and I seem to agree on most things Curry except for the joke composition of his right ankle — Strauss prefers calling it a slinky).
Strauss built that idea out into a cohesive, entertaining post titled, “Is Stephen Curry a star yet?” I don’t want to piggyback off Strauss’ column idea … actually, that’s a lie. I was going to write a post about Curry anyway based on the photos I took on Saturday night, when my wife and I bought actual tickets and attended a Warriors game together for the first time in three years. Then Strauss, as he often does, got me thinking. In this case, I started thinking about those comments I made during our podcast, things I didn’t even think about while watching Curry torch the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
The Warriors controlled the game throughout, and the Wizards looked content to call it a night midway through the second quarter. What did they care? They beat the Lakers the night before. John Wall made a quick exit, and Curry was absolutely phenomenal.
The simplest of stats can tell the story about Curry’s shooting this year, as Strauss notes. The most three-pointers attempted and the highest three-point percentage at the same time? Chris Mullin never led the league in either category.
The math is fantastic; the art is even better. Maybe it’s because just about every conceivable dunk has been done in my lifetime, but the way Curry shoots is my new favorite sight in basketball. A frail little guy with rare physical grace, throwing gorgeous grenades. A couple dribbles to the right, four feet behind the three-point line, a quick flick from his right wrist with a little spin courtesy of his fingertips, impossibly high arc, beautiful. Curry wasn’t shooting as often as he did at Madison Square Garden when he dropped 54, but the same net-fraying touch was there on Saturday. 6-for-10 from three, 13-for-18 otherwise. 35 points, along with 8 assists just to show off a little.
Yet Cartier Martin kept scoring and wouldn’t let the Warriors cruise to an easy victory with just their reserves, so Mark Jackson had to reinsert Curry at a time when he should’ve been resting. Curry had already taken a decent spill early in the game, injuring his right hip in the process. I took a couple photos:
This might actually be the injury that’s bothering him more now, as Marcus Thompson II reported. However, as we left the arena after the Warriors finally put the Wizards away, we weren’t thinking about Curry’s star power. We were thinking about his ankle again, because of this play where Curry stole the ball from Kevin Seraphin and Martin tried to carry his ex-teammate to the ground as delicately as you’d place a baby into its crib, with results that looked disastrous:
Looks bad, right?
I wasn’t repeatedly shooting photos in hopes of seeing something like that. After that steal, the last thing on my mind was whether he’d get tackled softly in the open court and hobble into the locker room a couple minutes later. I just wanted to capture whatever amazing offensive maneuver he was going to pull off.
But there was good news tonight! Things appear to be different now with that right ankle — Curry has rolled it multiple times this season and has avoided a long layoff. As those ligaments stretch beyond recognition and Curry’s internal pain tolerance scale shifts after two surgeries and countless sprains, each “tweak” seems less severe. Curry had only missed four games this year heading into game No. 72. And as I arrived at Oracle Arena, it was announced that he would start in tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers as well.
He started, and while he wasn’t in a version of that “MSG Zone” like we saw on Saturday, he still ran and played as if I had simply imagined Martin’s takedown. Curry abused Steve Blake. His stuck his arms out to the sides like wings after throwing a fourth quarter alley-oop to David Lee, soaring along the hardwood without a care. His shooting from the field is usually better than 37.5%, but the Warriors will take 25 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in a 109-103 win over the Lakers anytime.
Afterward, I asked Mark Jackson about whether outside observers can stop worrying every time Curry rolls his ankle.
“He’s proven. He is proven. It’s not a concern to me. It’s not a concern to this franchise, obviously when they stepped up to the plate and signed him long-term. And it’s not a concern to Steph,” Jackson said.
Curry was asked a similar question about whether coming back so quickly means his long-term ankle problems are in the rearview mirror (which also happens to be where the Lakers are these days, according to Jackson).
“This year is a new feeling,” Curry said. “After the game I didn’t have any worries that it would last too long because I know how it feels at the moment it happens and I’ve healed quickly. It’s a good feeling to come back after 48 hours and be able to play.”
“Just to put his health aside, he could’ve sat out. He could’ve said, ‘Let me rest and I’ll try to get back Wednesday,'” Jarrett Jack said. “I know he’s probably icing the mess out of it right now, but that’s what a leader does and an MVP candidate does.”
Players like Jack who know their way around a microphone don’t just throw out terms like “MVP candidate.” As the Warriors make their push to what now seems like a near-certain playoff berth, the Warriors and their fans should be celebrating Curry as the team’s transcendent player. With all apologies to David Lee’s resourceful, fundamentally sound and intelligent offensive game, Strauss was right when he said, “This is the year Stephen Curry became a star.”
Saturday night’s ankle injury looked like a season-ender to fans conditioned to expect the worst, and two days later it became something manageable to the point of being forgotten. Nothing is guaranteed for any athlete, but if we’re finally at the point where every Curry ankle roll doesn’t equal a catastrophe, maybe we can learn to sit back and enjoy the show.