The Golden State Warriors have needed Stephen Curry to play like the NBA’s first ever unanimous MVP, a title he earned during a record-setting 73-win season, but he’s been anything but that against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. The best player on the league’s best team hasn’t looked like himself, leading to speculation he’s playing through an injury.
Curry’s performance in Golden State’s 118-94 Game 4 loss in Oklahoma City was nothing short of shocking. Arguably the best shooter in NBA history, Curry converted just six of his 20 shots from the field, which included eight misfires on his 10 three-point attempts. He scored 19 points and committed as many turnovers as field goals made, hurting the Warriors on both sides of the floor.
It wasn’t just Curry’s outside shooting that suffered. He was just 2-7 in the restricted area, missing shots that he normally converts with ease. In the regular season, Curry shot 69.4 percent within three feet of the basket. He's also averaged 4.3 turnovers in the series, an uptick from his 3.2 career average.
With Curry looking like a shell of the player that won a second straight MVP award this season, it wasn’t surprising to see a report following Game 4 that stated the point guard isn’t close to being completely healthy. A source told The Vertical that Curry is “playing at 70 percent, at best.”
After going through the regular season mostly injury-free, Curry has been banged up in the playoffs. First it was an ankle injury that forced him to miss Game 2 and Game 3 against the Houston Rockets. When he came back in Game 4, Curry suffered a sprained MCL that sidelined him for the team’s next four games. Curry hasn’t missed any time due to injuries against Oklahoma City, but an awkward fall did cause a swollen elbow after Game 2.
Tuesday’s Game 4 marked exactly one month since Curry hurt his knee against Houston. The point guard acknowledged that his knee was not 100 percent before the conference finals began. But Curry, along with head coach Steve Kerr, insists that the injury has nothing to do with his poor play.
"No, I'm fine," Curry said when asked about his knee.
"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."
Perhaps Curry is being hampered by a knee that isn’t completely healed, but that would hardly excuse his poor production, especially in the last two games. With Curry on the court in Games 3 and 4, the Warriors were outscored by a combined 58 points. He struggled in Game 1, as well, committing seven turnovers and making just one field goal in the final quarter.
If Curry is being bothered by an injury, it’s not something that affected him when he came back in the second round against the Portland Trail Blazers. Curry scored 40 points in Game 4, including a record-setting 17 points in overtime. After nailing a three-pointer that sealed Golden State’s victory, Curry yelled “I’m back,” and it appeared that any injury concerns were out the window. Two nights later, he scored 29 points and dished out 11 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Even in Game 2 against the Thunder, Curry looked like the player that averaged 30.1 points while playing less than 35 minutes per game in the regular season. He needed just 15 shots to score 28 points, putting the Thunder away by himself when he scored 15 points during a two-minute stretch in the third quarter.
But Oklahoma City’s defense hasn’t allowed Curry to maintain that level of play. The Thunder have been physical with him, bumping and grabbing him when he’s off the ball and trying to run off screens. When Oklahoma City is on offense, Russell Westbrook has made Curry work, forcing him to expend the energy that usually allows him to score at will.
Westbrook has a motor like no other player in the league, and he didn’t let up for 41 minutes on Tuesday, posting a triple-double of 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Curry couldn’t keep up, and the Warriors are on the verge of elimination as a result.
“I’ve just got to play better. ... This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn’t over,” Curry said.
For some, it’s hard to fathom Curry struggling this much, unless he's bothered by an injury. But he’s had his share of bad games in the playoffs, most notably shooting 5-23 in Game 2 of last year’s NBA Finals.
Curry would eventually rebound and help lead the Warriors to a title in six games, but he’s running out of time to do so this year.