BOSTON — If you were to caricature the Golden State Warriors at their worsttheir weakest, their most vulnerable, their most volatile, it might look something like this.
Like Stephen Curry, throwing the ball away three times in 82 seconds to lead off the fourth quarter.
Like Draymond Green jawing at a referee for several minutes after fouling later in the period.
Like a team that easily gets bullied on the boards (a 47-31 margin) and in the paint (a 52-26 point margin) and on second-chance points (22-11).
Like a team that just might lack the strength, the athleticism and the firepower to keep pace with the Boston Celtics, who controlled the court for most of the night Wednesday, strutting to a 116-100 victory and a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics led for all but 49 seconds, and by as many as 18 points, leaving the Warriors in a perpetual state of despair—much as they were throughout their Game 1 loss a week ago. But this one came with more concerning consequences, namely the health of Curry’s left foot—and, by implication, the Warriors’ chances of winning this series.
Celtics center Al Horford, all 6 feet 9 inches and 240 pounds of him, landed on Curry’s foot during a scrap for a loose ball late in the game. Curry screamed in pain, then lay on the floor grimacing long after the scrum had cleared. He stayed in the game for another two minutes before coach Steve Kerr—with the game out of reach—pulled all his starters.
It’s the same foot that sustained a sprained ligament in March—as it happens, in a collision with the Celtics’ Marcus Smart—an injury that knocked out Curry for three weeks. Curry said this injury is similar to the first one, but less severe.
“That’s what it felt like, and we’ll see how it responds,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ll miss a game. Take advantage of these next 48 hours to get ready.”
Curry walked in and out of his press conference without any apparent limp. But there’s little time to heal before Game 4 here on Friday. And the mere sight of their two-time MVP laying on his back, wincing in pain, had to send a shudder through the entire franchise.
“He’s our identity,” Klay Thompson said, “and without him, it will be very difficult.”
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There was zero hyperbole in the first sentence. The second was a profound understatement.
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At times, the Warriors can hardly score without Curry—either his shooting itself, or the gravity it creates. He again led the way with 31 points on Wednesday—15 in a sizzling third-quarter burst that wiped out a double-digit deficit and very briefly gave the Warriors the lead, 83-82—but he couldn’t sustain the momentum.
The Warriors turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions to open the fourth, with Curry accounting for three of them as the Celtics pushed the lead back to double digits.
Boston made history along the wayas Jaylen Brown (27 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists), Jayson Tatum (26 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists) and Marcus Smart (24 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) became the first trio of teammates to put up at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists each in a Finals game since 1984, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper did it for the Lakers … against the Celtics.
And the Warriors? They did get a resurgent shooting performance from Thompson (25 points, 5 for 13 on threes), but little else from anyone. And Green, long the Warriors’ defensive conscience and tone-setter, turned in a dud: 2 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists while being serenaded with repeated chants of “F— you, Draymond” by the Celtics faithful.
Green got into another brief dustup with Grant Williams, continuing his series-long trend of provoking at least one Celtic per game. He fouled out for shoving Smart away from the scrum that engulfed Curry.
“I saw him getting dove on and that was about that,” Green said. “So I picked up my foul pushing off him, because he’s screaming at the bottom of the pile.”
It was the most impact Green made all night. By his own assessment, he played “soft” and “like s—.”
So the Warriors went back to the well, reminding everyone they’ve played worse and seen worse and experienced worse. Thompson even reached back to the beginning of this dynasty to draw a comforting comparison.
“Getting big 2015 vibes,” he said.
Back then, the Warriors also fell into a 2-1 hole in the Finals, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They won the series in six games. Of course, that Cavs team was missing stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, while this Celtics team is hale and hearty and showing few signs of vulnerability.
“It does help knowing that we’ve been through a little of everything the last eight years,” Curry said.
But all that muscle memory will be moot if the ligaments in Curry’s left foot can’t carry this dynasty for another three wins.
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