OAKLAND — Before the Golden State Warriors’ 110-107 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, Gregg Popovich, the cantankerous sage of the NBA, was in vintage form. The Spurs boss joked about how Nick Kerr, his quality assurance assistant, was a spy, feeding intel to his dad.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden sat on the court, alongside owner Mark Davis, who was festooned in a peach sweater and his trademark white pants.
The stage was set for an entertaining evening between the protege Steve Kerr and Pop, the Warriors and the Spurs.
Then, less than two-and-a-half minutes into the game, Stephen Curry went careening into the lane. He was fouled, his shot blocked in traffic. As Curry approached the backboard stanchion, he rolled his right ankle — again.
After sinking a pair of free throws, Curry disappeared down the tunnel not to return. A tweaked right ankle was the official word.
“Of course he’s frustrated,” head coach Steve Kerr said after the win. “I don’t know what else I can tell you. He’s in there [in the locker room]. He’s bummed out but it’s part of it. You’ve got to deal with it.”
Curry didn’t speak to the media after the game. He won’t be on the upcoming two-game trip to Portland and Minnesota.
Curry has now injured the same ankle on four occasions since the start of December:
— Dec. 4: severe sprain in New Orleans
— Jan. 10: minor re-sprain at shoot around
— March 2: minor sprain after landing on Zaza Pachulia’s foot
— March 8: tweak under the basket against the Spurs
On a night when Kevin Durant dropped 37 points — including 14 in a row late in the fourth — the story of the game was Curry’s increasingly worrisome right ankle.
“He said it was a little bit like the Atlanta one,” Kerr said. “He wanted to lobby to come back in the game and we wouldn’t let him. He said it was kind of a similar tweak, but we’ve got to be careful with it.”
During the Steve Kerr Era, the only thing that has derailed the Warriors — aside from one dubious suspension of Draymond Green — is a less-than-100 percent Curry. Right now, Curry’s right ankle makes him a major liability. That ankle has turned into the Warriors’ ticking time bomb.
The Warriors are not well-equipped to handle the absence of the NBA’s most unique and destructive offensive force. Curry shifts the gravity of the game every time he steps on the court.
When Quinn Cook entered the game, the two-way player had so much adrenaline coursing that he immediately fired up an airballed 3-point attempt that wasn’t anywhere close to the rim. Cook settled in as the game progressed but the idea that Cook or Shaun Livingston, who has been a ghost for much of the season, can fill in for Curry is laughable.
“Our guys understand when Steph is out everything changes,” Kerr said. “The whole building feels like there’s not as much energy and pace and frenzy. So it becomes a more methodical game.”
Against the Spurs, Durant and Green, who produced a triple double (11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) took over. The Warriors are now 22-0 when Green gets a triple double.
“We still have three All-Stars when Steph goes down,” Kerr said. “We still have a lot of talent. Kevin Durant took over the game on offense and Draymond did his thing defensively. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us because we only have three All-Stars left when Steph goes out.”
No one will feel sorry for the champs, but the concern among the Warriors was palpable. A visibly stressed Green took the podium and captured the zeitgeist of the night.
“It’s kind of always a worry,” Green said. “He’s done it so many times where you can kind of tell immediately whether he can get through it or not by his reaction. Just by that reaction that he had tonight it’s kind of a worry. And so, it’s great to hear that he’s okay and that he’ll be fine sometime soon.”