Steph Curry’s injury adds intrigue to NBA playoffs

The biggest story of the NBA playoffs so far is reigning MVP Stephen Curry’s sprained MCL. Curry’s Golden State Warriors took care of business in their opening playoff series against the Houston Rockets, winning 4-1. However, in Game 4 of that series, the Golden State point guard went down with a nasty-looking knee injury. Curry is now expected to come back on May 10, but mentioned on Friday that he hopes to make it back before then. The #1 seeded Warriors’ next opponent up is the #5 Portland Trail Blazers. Given the current timetable, that means the Curry will be back for Game 5 of that series. If he is able to come back earlier, he may be able to make Game 4, which is on May 9.

The shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers pushed the Blazers to six games in their first round matchup, but a late-game hot streak from shooting guard C.J. McCollum put the Clips away for good. Now McCollum and his backcourt mate Damian Lillard will lead Portland against the Warriors. Curry’s injury would have been major news no matter how things had shaken out in the first round, but the matchup with the Blazers gives it extra significance. Lillard and McCollum are known for their offensive prowess, each averaging over 20 points per game in the regular season. Now, with Curry most likely out for the first three or four games of the series, Portland won’t have to match up one of its stars against Steph’s underrated defense or try to have him cover Curry on offense. This will create a bit of a matchup problem for the Warriors, as both Lillard and McCollum are legitimate scoring threats. However, the Warriors will still be heavy favorites in the series and will probably win it in five games, six tops. The Warriors’ depth, speed and sharpshooting even without Curry makes the Blazers unlikely to beat them.

The real question for Golden State is whether or not Curry will come back healthy and be playing at 100% when they reach the Western Conference Finals and face either Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder or Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. Considering that they are in the midst of a historically good season–finishing the regular season with the seventh most wins all-time–the Spurs are favored against the Thunder. However, the Thunder are also just on the cusp of greatness. No team in the league has even figured out how to slow down, let alone stop, Durant or Russell Westbrook.

No matter which team wins that series, it will be the underdog against a full-rostered, healthy Golden State. However, should injuries continue to hamper the best player in the league, the Warriors–who people have been writing off as 2016 NBA champs since November–will probably end their playoff run in a loss to the one of those teams. After all, Klay Thompson might be really really good, but you want Curry, not Thompson, taking the big shots with the game on the line.

To get a sense of how good Curry actually is, check out some of his stats. His 2016 season in the top 10 all time for player efficiency rating, he set a record this year for most 3 pointers in a season (crushing his own previous record), averages over 30 points per game on over 50% shooting, and still contributes over 5 rebounds and 6 assists per game. And keep in mind that Steph sat out the fourth quarter in nearly 30% of Golden State’s games! He is an unbelievably good basketball player.

Stephen Curry’s injury is the kind of thing you never want to see, even as an opposing fan. The second most famous member of the Curry family (after his adorable daughter Riley, of course) is the most important player in the NBA and the top storyline of the playoffs is whether or not his knee will heal up in time for the Western Conference Finals. A playoffs that had one of the clearest favorites since Michael Jordan was dominating the league is now thrown into question. We’ll see how things shake out.

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