BOSTON (AP) — Even as he lay on the court, with 240-pound Celtics center Al Horford on top of his recently recovered left ankle, Stephen Curry knew what was wrong.
And as soon as he stood up and took a few steps, he knew he would be OK.
“I’m going to play. That’s all I know right now,” the Warriors star said on Thursday, a day before Golden State will face Boston in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
“I know exactly what it is,” said Curry, who hurt the same ankle on a similar play in a late-season game against Boston. “I guess (there’s) comfort knowing I’ve been through it before, but also you would rather not have to deal with something like that at this point in the season.”
Curry wound up at the bottom of a pile Wednesday night as players from both teams dove for a loose ball late in the fourth quarter. Teammate Draymond Green said he heard Curry scream in pain, but the Warriors star remained in the game until coach Steve Kerr sent in the bench trailing by 14 with two minutes left.
The Celtics held on to win 116-100 and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Golden State needs a win on Friday night to avoid falling behind 3-1 before the series shifts back to San Francisco.
A key to them avoiding the brink of elimination: Curry not just remaining healthy, but playing like a two-time NBA MVP. The Warriors guard scored 31 points in Game 3, but just two of them came in the fourth quarter as the league-leading Celtics defense chased him around the court.
Golden State held a film session Thursday, but the team’s regulars did not practice. Curry appeared to walk without a limp when he entered the media room to talk to reporters, and he took the steps to the podium three at a time. He had no bandage or brace on his leg.
Curry said he got plenty of sleep — 10 1/2 hours — and spent some time with his foot in an ice bucket. But he said he did not need an MRI because the injury was the same as the one he sustained when Celtics guard Marcus Smart landed on his foot in a March 16 game in San Francisco.
“This one just wasn’t as bad as that one,” said Curry, who missed the last 12 games of the regular season. “As soon as you started to take a couple of steps, you kind of know whether you can run normal, cut normal or not. Back then, I couldn’t. Yesterday, I could. That gave me a little bit of confidence knowing it wasn’t as bad.”
Asked Thursday if he would be sitting out if it were a regular-season game, Curry said he couldn’t say for sure.
But for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, there’s no question.
“I know I’m going to play,” he said.
The Celtics listed center Robert Williams III as questionable on Thursday with the left knee injury that required late-season surgery and kept him out for seven of the team’s first 14 playoff games.
Boston coach Ime Udoka said forward Jayson Tatum is dealing with a right shoulder stinger.
“That’s going to flare up whenever he gets hit the wrong way,” Udoka said. “(He) had to shoot some free throws after, might be a little numb there. He is shooting threes right after, so I’m not sure it hampers his ability to finish at all.”
THREE GOOD QUARTERS
Golden State has outscored Boston in the third quarter of all three games so far, so a reporter asked Kerr why they can’t start the game the same way.
“I ask myself that question very often,” he said, “and I don’t have an answer.”
The Warriors have outscored the Celtics by a combined score of 106-63 in the finals. Golden State had a 33-25 edge on Wednesday night, eliminating a 12-point halftime deficit and briefly taking the lead.
Kerr joked that he has a book of “incredibly inspiring quotes” he calls on.
“I just try to pull out the right one,” he said. “And if I get them fired up and they’re excited, then they seem to play better.”
The third quarter struggles are a recurring problem for the Celtics, who similar lapses against Miami and Milwaukee.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s a mystery,” Smart said. “We’re definitely trying to not keep that pattern going.”
Here are three things that would go a long way toward the Warriors getting it done Friday night.
1. Value every possession
The team that has won the turnover battle has won each of the first three games in this series. Both teams have a way of shooting themselves in the foot with careless turnovers, but the Warriors have less margin for error. They don’t have the defense the Celtics have to fall back on, and they don’t have multiple All-Star level creators like Boston.
What the Warriors have is Stephen Curry, who’s shooting a blistering 49 percent from 3 in this series on over 12 attempts per game. Every time the Warriors turn the ball over, in addition to it leading to transition offense for a more athletic Boston team, it very simply takes one more opportunity away from Curry to launch, and Golden State needs every bit of Curry magic it can muster to keep pace with the Celtics.
These kinds of high-risk passes need to be shelved.
Golden State always walks a fine risk-reward line, and it’s understandable that they would want to press their luck in search of easy baskets against a Boston defense that becomes a monster when it’s set. But these passes just don’t have enough upside. Green is threading too tight a needle in both cases.
The Warriors are scoring 97.2 points per half-court possession in this series, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s almost identical to their regular-season mark. It’s not like they haven’t been able to score, particularly when Curry is on the court, when they pull it back and run their offense. Pushing pace and playing free is great, but the Warriors have to value every possession like the championship is on the line, because it is.
2. Draymond has to show up
Green has been downright bad in two of the three games. For the series, he has more turnovers (6) than made baskets (5). He was aggressive to score in Game 1, finishing 2-for-12. He missed short-roll shots in the paint, layups and four 3-pointers as the Celtics basically disregarded him on the perimeter to sag an extra defender into the paint, mucking up driving lanes.
In Game 3 Green carded two points, three assists and four rebounds before fouling out. After the game, he said he played “like sh-t,” and there’s really no other way to put it.
With Stephen Curry running a ton of pick-and-roll, Green would typically be making a lot of plays off the short roll, but the Celtics aren’t full-out blitzing Curry, so those 4-on-3 opportunities haven’t been there nearly as much as Green is used to.
3. Poole or Payton game
Unlike the Celtics, who can play lineups in which neither offense or defense is compromised, the Warriors have to choose. If they play Looney for his defense and rebounding, their spacing suffers. If they play Bjelica for his shooting, they lose defense. If they go small for scoring, they get killed on the glass. If they play big, they’re collectively slow.
No two players better reflect this trade-off dilemma than Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, who jumped Poole in the rotation in Game 2 and looked great but then only played 11 minutes in Game 3. This is a fluid situation. If Poole has it going, he’s too valuable as the lone secondary creator next to Curry, and obviously as the only one when Curry sits, to go without. But his defense is a major issue.
For Payton, it’s the other way. As one of the few guys capable of containing penetration and disrupting Boston’s creators, his defense is vital, but he’s not a shooter that Boston is going to give two thoughts to tracking, so he mucks up the spacing. When Payton is on his game, he’s taking advantage of the defensive inattention by cutting for layups and dunks and he’s always great in the open floor.
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