OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – Stephen Curry sat on the scorer’s table at Oracle Arena on Thursday, gazed at the empty seats and tried to imagine how he’d feel if he had to be a spectator for the first home playoff game of his four-year career.
“It would kill me,” Curry said.
Whether the pain in Curry’s sprained left ankle will subside enough for him to be on the court when the Golden State Warriors host the Denver Nuggets for Game 3 on Friday night is not something even the sharp-shooting point guard could say for sure. Curry is confident he’ll play, but he’s also unsure how sore his ankle will be.
When the ball is tossed up and Golden State’s 33rd straight sellout crowd roars to its feet, about the only certainty is that almost everybody in the building will be focusing on Curry again. And how his ankle holds up will go a long way in determining which way this fast-paced, first-round series swings.
“I told our trainer Chad (Bergman) he could be the MVP of this series,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson quipped.
For better and for worse, Curry has controlled the outcome in the first two games.
He struggled for most of Game 1, when he scored 19 points and handed out nine assists in Denver’s 97-95 win. Then he turned his left ankle trying to stop and change directions while dribbling in the third quarter of Game 2, but he returned strong to finish with 30 points and 13 assists in Golden State’s 131-117 victory.
“In Game 1, we did a very good job on him,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He started getting loose in the second half and almost beat us. Game 2, he got loose and he beat us.”
Getting loose is exactly what Curry is trying to do now.
Curry said his left ankle swelled up after Tuesday night’s win evened the best-of-seven series. The team had Wednesday off and he sat out practice Thursday, saying “I wouldn’t be able to play right now if there was a game.”
Curry will continue treatment and remains hopeful to hear his name called last during pregame introductions, which usually leads to the loudest roars. He also said he’ll consider a pain-numbing injection, which is something he never did when his twice surgically repaired right ankle gave him problems in the past.
But Curry also has never been to the playoffs. And for a player dogged by ankle setbacks throughout his career, sitting out his first home postseason game would be an equally painful scenario.
“Especially for it being an ankle kind of deal. I’ve been through enough of that,” Curry said.
The one upside from all the ankle injuries is that Curry knows what his latest recovery requires. He joked that team trainers “didn’t have to go through the anatomy of the ankle and all that stuff, because I’m pretty well-versed in it by now.”
Curry, no longer sensitive to injury questions, even took to Twitter to ask fans for their favorite ankle puns. One follower suggested his theme song be “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. Another said his daytime soap opera should be called “As the Ankle Turns.”
“Mine was my favorite,” Curry said. “No ankle left unturned.”
The dynamic point guard spent the entire season erasing concerns about his troublesome right ankle, averaging career highs of 22.9 points and 6.9 assists while playing in 78 of 82 games. He also shot his way into NBA history by sinking 272 3-pointers this season, three more than former record-holder Ray Allen had for Seattle in 2005-06.
After forward David Lee’s season ended when he tore his right hip flexor in the playoff opener, Curry left no doubt that the Warriors could win without its lone All-Star selection. He shot 13 of 23 from the floor, had just one turnover and anchored an offense that shot 64.6 percent – the highest in an NBA playoff game in 22 years.
“When he’s coming off screens, he’s pretty tough,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “This is probably the only player I’ve played against all year point guard-wise that I’ve had to chase off screens.”
Denver’s defensive concerns go well beyond Curry’s shooting stroke.
Golden State’s smaller lineup bothered the Nuggets throughout. The Warriors played three guards – Curry, Jarrett Jack (26 points) and Klay Thompson (21 points) – and shifted Harrison Barnes (24 points) from small forward to power forward alongside center Andrew Bogut, whose own tender left ankle has held up surprisingly well.
Karl will counter by returning energizer and top rebounder Kenneth Faried to Denver’s starting lineup. He remained mum on whether Faried will take Wilson Chandler’s place or struggling center Kosta Koufos’.
Whoever starts, the Nuggets know they’ll need to be at their best where they haven’t for most of this season: on the road.
Denver, which was an NBA-best 38-3 at home entering the playoffs, finished 19-22 away from the Pepsi Center. The teams split both games in Oakland back in November, though the next two will be entirely different.
Golden State is hosting its first playoff game since 2007 – when the Warriors upset top-seeded Dallas in the first round – and is in the postseason for only the second time in 19 years. The Bay Area has supported the Warriors surprisingly well, even in terrible times, so count Curry among those eager to see the atmosphere for a critical playoff tilt.
“I expect, as soon as we come out for the warm-ups, that it’s going to be a noticeable difference from a regular-season game,” Curry said. “We have some of the loudest fans, if not the loudest fans in the league, but throughout the course of the game there’s ups and downs. I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty consistent.”
By ANTONIO GONZALEZ, AP Sports Writer
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