OAKLAND — Every game, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown can be seen on the sidelines next to Steve Kerr with a sheet charting the team’s rotations.
Since being hired by Kerr to be the Warriors’ substitutions maestro, Brown has been obsessive in his preparation and his substitution charts, making sure that at least two of the team’s four coure players — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — are on the court at any given time. Once Golden State returned from Los Angeles, he had to get to work.
With Curry rolling his ankle in the first quarter of the Warriors’ series-clinching win over the Clippers on Friday, and Thompson spraining his ankle in the third, Brown and the rest of the coaching staff have been going over contingencies. Both Splash Brothers are questionable, Kerr said on Saturday, for Sunday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, a team purpose-built to beat Golden State.
“[Thompson] and Steph both came in this morning to get some treatment, and I haven’t even spoken with [trainer Rick Celebrini] yet today,” Kerr said. “We’re upstairs watching film, getting ready, and we’ll see how they’re doing tomorrow. I’m not going to make a definitive statement on whether they’ll both play.”
Kerr said that Thompson has a “significant sprain” in his right ankle, but Thompson dealt with left ankle injury (officially a left lateral leg contusion) during last year’s NBA Finals, and even hobbled, he went off for 20 points in Game 2. He finished that series averaging 16 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, shooting 41.9% from 3-point range.
Curry, who has had noted ankle issues for much of his career, requiring two surgeries, tweaked his right ankle on Friday and exited the game, only to return and finish a 24-point, six-rebound, six-asisst night.
“They both came in today and got some work, so we’ll see how they’re doing tomorrow,” Kerr said.
The injuries highlight the perils of the complacency Golden State has displayed throughout their pursuit of a third straight NBA title. While lapses of concentration and intensity during the regular season didn’t much impact the Warriors’ No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, their disinterest in the series against the Clippers — a series where they were the biggest first-round favorites in 30 years — cost them two games. First, a historic 31-point collapse in Game 2 at home, and then a loss in Game 5 at home where Golden State allowed 37 first-quarter points. Had they not had to play two extra games, Curry and Thompson may very well be healthy.
The Warriors have looked ahead to this series, which ultimately cost them against Los Angeles. The Rockets, too, admitted to wanting a re-match of a hard-fought 2018 Western Conference Finals, but they took care of the Utah Jazz in five games, giving them three days of rest coming into Game 1, while Golden State had just Saturday.
The two teams have played each other in the postseason three times in the last four years, and Houston arrived in Oakland on Friday, before the end of the Clippers series, and have admitted to wanting another shot at Golden State, after last year’s seven-game conference finals.
“I admire what Houston has done over the last couple of years, building their roster, building their style, competing with us,” Kerr said. “Obviously last year’s series was epic. Great competition. I’ve got great respect for what they’ve done, and they’re relentless.”
If Curry is lost for any length of time, it would be a blow to the heart of the Warriors’ offense, given his career playoff averages of 26 points, 6.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds, but his injury seems to be less severe than Thompson’s.
Losing Thompson would be particularly difficult for Golden State, not just for his own noted offense, but because he typically defends the opposing team’s best offensive player, which in Houston’s case means James Harden. Last year, he and Andre Iguodala teamed to defend the league MVP in the Western Conference Finals.
“He has things in his bag that he goes to, so you have to go in knowing what’s coming and avoiding that stuff,” Kerr said. “The good thing is, we just had six games with Lou Williams, who has a very similar game, in terms of the tricks, drawing fouls, drawing contact, creating angles, that sort of thing. Obviously, James is a different level.
“We’ve watched what other teams are doing. We’ve had good success the last few years, relatively speaking. You know you’re going to give up points and stats, but can you make it difficult? Can you keep him off the foul line? Those are the keys. If he gets 30 points with only four free throws, you’ve done your job.”
Kerr said that Brown is already hard at work, managing Sunday’s lineups and subsitution patterns, just in case the Warriors need to find a new lineup that can defend Harden and create scoring opportunities in case one or two of the Warriors’ top scorers aren’t at full strength.
“He’s going to be a busy man tonight,” Kerr said. “We’ve already gone over some of that. If certain guys don’t play, what we would do, and you adapt and you adjust and you go ahead and see what happens.”