OAKLAND (AP) — If the Golden State Warriors want to cap a record-setting season with a second straight NBA title, they will need to survive the next two weeks without their best player.
Stephen Curry is expected to miss at least two weeks with a Grade 1 sprain of the MCL in his right knee, dealing an unexpected blow to the Warriors’ hopes of repeating as champions.
“From our perspective, it’s relatively good news,” general manager Bob Myers said Monday. “Clearly we don’t want to be here getting MRIs at this point of the season, especially someone of Steph’s stature. ... But mechanically the knee is intact, so that’s good.”
Myers said the two-week estimate is an educated guess based on how players typically respond to similar injuries, but cautioned the absence could be three weeks or possibly slightly shorter.
The team will have a better handle on how long Curry will be out after about a week but Curry will miss the rest of the first round of the playoffs and almost assuredly the start of the second round if the Warriors advance. Golden State leads Houston 3-1 heading into Game 5 at home on Wednesday night.
“If it’s not two weeks, don’t go crazy,” Myers said. “If it’s before that, great. If it’s after, it’s after.”
Curry was injured on the final play of the first half of Sunday’s 121-94 win in Houston when he slid awkwardly on a wet spot on the court and fell. He immediately grabbed his knee and jogged with a limp to the locker room.
“Nobody is to blame here,” Myers said. “If you play basketball, that stuff happens unfortunately.”
Curry came out with the team after halftime, but sat on the bench for most of the warmup time. After talking with coaches, he returned to the locker room with his second injury of the series. Curry had missed the previous two games with a sprained right ankle but said that was not an issue during the first half Sunday.
The Warriors thrived without Curry on Sunday, hitting eight 3-pointers in the third quarter alone to turn a tie game into a 21-point lead on the way to the easy win.
But doing that without the reigning MVP for a longer period of time figures to be more problematic. The Warriors have gone 3-2 this season without Curry playing, including wins against the Rockets on New Year’s Eve and at home in Game 2. Golden State also lost Game 3 in Houston by one point while Curry sat with the ankle injury.
Replacing everything Curry does is almost impossible because no one has ever had the collection of skills he has with the ability to spread the defense with long-range shooting, the ballhandling to create his own shot and the playmaking that leads to easy baskets for his teammates.
Curry led the NBA this season by averaging 30.1 points per game, while averaging 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and a league-leading 2.1 steals as well. Curry made a record 402 3-pointers, eclipsing his own previous mark by 116.
While backup point guard Shaun Livingston and do-everything power forward Draymond Green can shoulder much of the playmaking load and Klay Thompson is the second-best 3-point shooter in the league, the Warriors go from a historically great team that won a record 73 games in the regular season with Curry in the lineup to a vulnerable one if he misses significant time.
With a 3-1 series lead and two potential games at home against the eighth-seeded Rockets, Golden State is still primed to advance to the second round without Curry. But a second-round series against either the Los Angeles Clippers or Portland would be much more problematic.
The second round of the playoffs won’t start until this weekend at the earliest. No matter when the second round starts, Game 4 would likely be either May 8 or 9, which will be in two weeks.
That would make Curry’s earliest possible return in Game 5 but Golden State could be forced to go the entire round without him, which could open a path for teams like San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Clippers or Cleveland to win the title.
The Warriors benefited from injuries to opponents last season on the way to the NBA title with Memphis point guard Mike Conley missing time in the second round and Cleveland missing point guard Kyrie Irving for the last five games and power forward Kevin Love for the entire NBA Finals.
Now Golden State is the team dealing with injuries.