The Golden State Warriors’ quest for another championship this season was almost derailed on February 28th when Kevin Durant suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise. However, this ended up being one of the biggest blessings in disguise for Stephen Curry and the Warriors this season.
Injuries are a natural and unavoidable element to sports that can be frustrating and sometimes even devastating, but injuries provide opportunities. When a player gets injured, their teammates can sometimes struggle to find their rhythm or identity without that player, or on the contrary, they can rise up in their absence and become stronger through that adversity. The Golden State Warriors experienced both of these scenarios when Durant went down.
Durant hurt his knee in the first few minutes of a game against the Washington Wizards, and the Warriors ultimately lost that game. The Warriors went 2-5 after that game. It’s only natural that when one of a team’s best players gets hurt, it takes some time for the team to bounce back and learn how to play and win without that player, but Curry, specifically, went through a transition process of his own.
More from Golden Gate Sports
- Raiders: Rookie stock report following Week 3 performance
- 49ers sign new long snapper amidst a flurry of roster moves
- Oakland Athletics win Game 2 of Wild Card round with late-inning drama
- 49ers: George Kittle and Deebo Samuel cleared to return to practice
- 49ers expected to place DE Dee Ford on injured reserve
Curry received a lot of criticism early on in the 2016-17 NBA season that he was having a “down year” and wasn’t playing as well as he had in the past couple seasons. This wasn’t exactly a fair statement, because his two seasons prior to this one ended with two MVP titles, and one of those titles (2016) was a unanimous decision, the first in NBA history. Therefore, any season compared to those seasons would appear “worse.”
Curry is naturally an unselfish player and as a point guard, his job is to set up and maintain the flow of the offense and create opportunities for other players. Because of that, he wanted to ensure throughout the beginning of the season that Durant would fit into the offense and get plenty of shot opportunities. This led Durant to produce at an MVP type of level, but it also led to a slight dip in Curry’s personal production.
The decrease in his statistics weren’t overly concerning or alarming, but it mostly indicated that the Warriors were still trying to find the perfect formula with a significant new contributor on the team.
When the Warriors went 2-5 after Durant suffered his injury, Curry continued to play the same style he had been playing all season. Even though Durant wasn’t on the court, Curry was still trying to establish the team’s rhythm and was leading the team while trying to navigate them through troubled waters.
After those seven games though, something changed. That 2-5 streak proved to be the last losing streak the Warriors would go on, as they would go 15-1 to finish the regular season.
The turnaround could be strongly attributed to Curry. As Bay Area sportswriter Marcus Thompson wrote about in his new book “Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry,” Curry has a “baby-faced assassin mode” that he ignites at certain times when he’s being challenged, questioned, or when he simply needs to rise above the situation and put matters into his own hands. This is the mode he played in during his MVP seasons, and this is the mode that was activated about seven games after Durant injured his knee.
When Curry gets into that mode, it is almost humanly impossible to guard or stop him. His determination, his tenacity, and his underdog mentality take over like he has something to prove. It doesn’t matter who’s guarding him or what stands in his way, he can take over a game at any second and any moment he wants, and he did that when his teammate got hurt…not just for one game but for the rest of the season.
With Durant not on the court, Curry didn’t have to share the ball as much, so he was able to play more freely and put the team on his back, which he is just as good at as when he shares the ball and gets everyone involved.
Even when Durant returned to action, though, Curry was able to keep that mode activated. He still had to sacrifice some shot attempts and help Durant get back into the flow of the offense, but he was more able to balance doing that while looking for his own shots and igniting the team as a shooter and scorer too.
When Curry plays at that level, he makes everyone around him better too, and the Warriors, as a whole, become even harder to defeat. The Warriors experienced significant time without one of their best players, but this injury ultimately benefited the team. When the playoffs started, the Warriors entered that stage of the season with their other best player performing at his best, which made the team better.
To start the playoffs, the Warriors have gone 12-0, making them the first team in NBA history to do so. A big reason why they have had that kind of success is because they are more focused and united than ever. They have a much more business-like approach this year than in previous seasons.
The Warriors are proud and excited to be heading to their third Finals in the last three years, but they are also more aware than ever that they have a long way to go and nothing guarantees them another title, even a 3-1 lead in a series. They know how tough it is to lose a championship series after building what seems like a commanding, comfortable lead, and they don’t want a repeat of that this year.
In addition, it seems as if the team is more on the same page now than they ever have been before, even with their head coach still out. They know how tough it is to deal with an injury to a key player on a team. Just like when Durant was out and Curry stepped up, this team is now stepping up as a unit. They have formed an even tougher bond through adversity, and it’s happening at just the right time.
Curry and Durant have set the tone all year for the Warriors, and they continue to do so in the playoffs. Even though the Warriors faced immense adversity when Durant injured his knee, the team has become stronger because of it, largely due to Curry’s leadership and superstar level of play.