The Golden State Warriors and M.V.P. Stephen Curry aren’t making any excuses, but perhaps they should be. Playing thru injuries, the NBA’s most exciting long distance shooter has been getting roasted in social media for his sub par performances during this year’s playoffs.
The good news is the Dubs have been able to put up points when needed without his usual lofty production. “Strength in Numbers” has been more than a slogan.
Curry missed Games Two and Three against the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs after turning an ankle. He had shot 5-7 from three-point range in Game One, but on his return eight days later he shot 1-7 from three and suffered a Grade 1 MCL strain (knee injury). In hindsight he came back way too soon and his team didn’t need him to, quickly and easily putting away the eighth place Rockets.
Sports Injury Clinic describes a Grade 1 MCL strain as,
For a grade 1 MCL injury there may be mild tenderness on the inside of the knee over the ligament. There is usually no swelling. When the knee is bent to 30 degrees and an outward force applied to the lower leg to stress the medial ligament, pain is felt but there is no joint laxity. A grade one tear consists of fewer than 10% of the fibres being torn.
A mild MCL injury or grade one sprain should take 3 to 6 weeks to make a full recovery.
As much a pro athletes are idolized and sometimes feel that they are indestructible and indispensable, they are still human. These types of injuries take time to heal. Curry only missed the next four games and came back before two weeks had passed. His play showed he wasn’t fully ready.
Curry put up points in those last two games against Portland, but like the Houston series, the Warriors would have easily moved past the second round without him. Then he struggled – solely by his own very high standards – as his team went down three games to one in the Conference Finals to Oklahoma City before leading his team back with three 30+ point games in a row shooting over 47 percent from three-point range for the huge comeback series win.
Now in the NBA Finals the regular season M.V.P. is only shooting 40 percent from three and averaging just 16 points per game. It seems obvious his usual mobility and extraordinarily deep range isn’t quite there. Maybe he should have taken that extra week or two off to rest his knee longer, but now just over six weeks since his injury we’ll never know if it would have made that big of a difference.
Curry has even been taking shots from the media. After Game Three, SI’s Ben Golliver wrote,
Curry, meanwhile, wasn’t at the heart of anything except the blooper reel. The same bugaboos that plagued him in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City—incredibly careless turnovers, rushed shots—came roaring back in Cleveland.
Curry didn’t even try to defend what happened on the court.
“It was all me,” Curry said afterward, owning up to his poor play. “They were playing aggressive defense and they came out with a big punch. I didn’t do anything about it or play my game, and for me to do what I need to do to help my team, I have to play a hundred times better than that.”
Hopefully Curry can play better, but there are no guarantees about how much more he has to give. We do know Curry has already canceled plans to play for Team USA at the Olympics. The following statement was released by Curry after Game Two of the NBA Finals:
“After a great deal of internal thought and several discussions with my family, the Warriors and my representatives, I’ve elected to withdraw my name from the list of eligible players on Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil. I recently informed Jerry Colangelo of this decision.”
“My previous experiences with USA Basketball have been incredibly rewarding, educational and enjoyable, which made this an extremely difficult decision for me and my family. However, due to several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries – I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career. It’s an incredible honor to represent your country and wear ‘USA’ on your chest, but my primary basketball-related objective this summer needs to focus on my body and getting ready for the 2016-17 NBA season.”
If there was any doubt that Curry has been playing through pain before, announcing plans to not play in the Olympics this early should have removed any doubt. Virtually no young athlete willingly misses out on a chance to win a Gold Medal for their Country. Skip the obvious financial benefits from the increased endorsements, the personal pride of being recognized as one of the best in the world while representing your nation is almost overwhelming.
No one should be expecting Curry to complain. His team is deep enough to compete against the best with or without him and it’s not like he hasn’t been contributing. The competition, the defense, the games are supposed to be tougher in the NBA Finals and playing on a leg at less than 100 percent should be expected to impact on things like shooting and mobility. Getting roasted in the media and social media for not scoring 30 points per game when your team is up two games to one in the Finals does seem a bit much though.