CHASE CENTER — In the third quarter of Golden State’s 121-110 loss to the Phoenix Suns, Stephen Curry clutched his left hand as he writhed in pain on the floor.
Suns center Aron Baynes had fallen on top of him, silencing the Chase Center crowd and breaking the two-time MVP’s left hand.
Already dealing with a slim margin for error — with half their championship core gone, nine newcomers, no cap room to add talent and two injured rotation players — the loss of the franchise cornerstone is devastating for the Warriors in a rebuilding season following five years of unprecedented success.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough start for us on many levels,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “We’re just trying to find our footing. This puts us in a tough spot.”
Curry’s injury follows those to forward Kevon Looney (hamstring neuropathy) and backup guard Jacob Evans (left adductor strain), with Thompson unlikely to return until late February at the earliest from an ACL reconstruction. Golden State needed a healthy Curry and a Defensive Player of the Year-level effort from Draymond Green to have at least some hope of staying in the playoff hunt until Thompson returned, but with a likely lottery-bound season ahead, Thompson may be best served by resting up until next October.
“We’ll meet tomorrow as a staff, watch film with the team and we’ll be able to discuss all that stuff,” Kerr said.
With 8:31 left in the third quarter, Curry was driving through the lane before taking a spill over Baynes’ hip while going for a layup. He extended his left hand as he fell, and Baynes fell on top of it. After turning to his back and grasping at his left hand, Curry got up and made a move to attempt his free throws, but instead, turned and headed to the locker room. X-rays confirmed the break, and Curry went to a nearby hospital for further tests.
Curry will undergo a CT scan on Thursday to determine if he needs surgery. Minimal recovery time for the injury is three weeks.
“Feel terrible for what happened to Steph,” Baynes said. “You never want to see someone go down and get hurt, let alone be part of it.”
During Golden State’s five straight trips to the NBA Finals, Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Green had been able to buoy the team when Curry went down. Even then, since the 2014-15 season, the Warriors have gone a middling 33-27 when Curry isn’t on the floor.
With Thompson hurt, Iguodala and Durant traded away and Green nicked up and with nothing to play for, the already-thin Warriors will be forced to depend on what’s now likely the least talented roster in the league.
— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 31, 2019
Evans — who was being groomed to play the point during the summer — won’t play for at least the next three weeks and Looney won’t for at least the next four games (if not longer). Golden State doesn’t have any other reliable, proven scorers outside of D’Angelo Russell, who will now take over at the point, with career backup Alec Burks — who made his Warriors debut on Wednesday — at the two. They also have eight players age 23 or younger.
Curry was the center of Kerr’s motion offense, but his injury also takes away arguably the most dangerous pick-and-roll ball handler in the league at a time when Willie Cauley-Stein’s return from a mid-foot strain meant the Warriors could use that as more of a weapon.
“The focal point of our offense was built around him,” said Russell, a first-time All-Star last season who was acquired in a sign-and-trade for Durant. “It forces guys to step up … The big thing I see is just opportunity for a lot of people.”
Russell will have to take over the scoring, and a greater burden will be placed on mercurial rookie Jordan Poole and No. 41 pick Eric Paschall, who went 7-of-8 for a team-high 20 points on Wednesday.
“It’s a great opportunity for the rookies to play, but it’s also a little bit too much,” Kerr said. “You want to bring along rookies as best you can, and we’re just putting so much on their plate, but we have no choice with all the injuries.”
After the game, Golden State executives were still in shock. General manager Bob Myers mouthed a profanity. After five years in which the Warriors rarely faced true adversity, there’s a chance Curry gets good news and is back in less than a month. There’s also a chance he’s out for much longer, which would mean Golden State could be looking at a lottery pick in next year’s draft.
If the Warriors do get a lottery pick, they’ll add him to a healthy and rested Curry and Thompson — who will finally be able to take May and June off for the first time in half a decade — along with Green, a 24-year-old Russell and potentially Cauley-Stein, 26, a former lottery pick himself who has a player option for the second year of his contract.
Curry’s injury may sink this season, but, long term, it may be the best, worst thing for the franchise.