Kerr, Curry at odds over playoff return

With the NBA Playoffs three weeks away, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr dropped a bomb at Sunday’s pregame press conference regarding injured two-time MVP Stephen Curry:

“There’s no way he’s playing the first round (of the playoffs). We’ve got to be ready to play without him and see how he’s coming along.”

Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee during Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks when teammate JaVale McGee fell into Curry’s knee, causing him to limp back to the bench, and eventually to the locker room in the third quarter.

The injury came as a major disappointment to a team plagued by a recent slew of injuries to it’s All-Star starting lineup. Kevin Durant is out with an incomplete rib cartilage fracture; Draymond Green is out with a pelvic contusion; Klay Thompson is out with a fractured right thumb. Curry was competing his first game himself after tweaking his right ankle weeks earlier, giving hope to a squandered team forced to rely on it’s bench and two-way players to hold them together in the final stretch of the regular season.

After an MRI Saturday, the Warriors announced Curry would be reevaluated in three weeks, just in time for the beginning of the playoffs. So Sunday’s announcement came as a jolt, even to Warriors owner and CEO Joe Lacob who seemed surprised by the definitive nature of Kerr’s comments when talking to local Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 The Game Monday afternoon:

“Steve obviously said what he said, I’m not sure why he said what he said because it was news to me too, quite frankly. But I think he’s just trying to be protective.”

And with good reason. Curry’s history of injuries have caused trepidation throughout the Warriors staff, especially for a top-heavy team that has far fewer small players and guards at its disposal. Lacob said no matter what, the final say must come from the medical staff before management or Curry himself can even think about him stepping back on the court:

“We’re all involved, but obviously it’s a medical thing, so the doctors make the call for the most part. We’re going to do whatever they say and we are going to be conservative because he’s far too important to the franchise…He may be ready. He’s certainly saying he thinks he can be ready. Who knows?”

Curry himself took Kerr’s decisive statement as a challenge when he took to the podium to speak with reporters before Sunday night’s 110-91 loss to the Utah Jazz:

“Mentally for me, staying positive, staying upbeat. Hopefully I prove that what coach said was wrong, and put myself in a position to get back as soon as possible.”

Curry, in the past, has been quick to push back against Kerr’s insistence to rest him following an injury or vexing incident on the court. But Kerr, who tends to win the decision in the end, told reporters at practice on Monday morning, that sometimes he has to play the fatherly role and save Curry from his own urgency to return prematurely:

“We’ll see what happens. We’re not going to bring him back until he’s ready. In my mind, you don’t reevaluate and say ‘okay he’s good, I know he hasn’t practiced in three weeks, but go ahead, start the playoffs’. We’ve got to protect Steph from himself.”

Kerr reminded there is still rehabilitation and court work to be done before simply throwing Curry back into some of the most intense minutes against a teams that are foaming at the mouth to take a bite out of the Warriors’ playoff dominance.

Kerr and Curry did however agree on one fact: Curry has a longstanding history of proving he can come back strong from even the most detrimental of injuries, a quality Curry said he has become more confident with throughout the years:

“It’s definitely helpful knowing how my body responds to being out for an extended period of time and having to come back into pressure situations and high intensity playoff games.”

The Warriors are no strangers to their current predicament. Durant, who suffered an injury similar to Curry’s last season, was out for six weeks before returning right before the playoffs. That did not stop the Warriors from steamrolling their playoff competition. Kerr believes this experience can only help moving forward sans Curry:

“The good thing is, we’ve been through this. It wasn’t exactly the same timeline, but it was a similar injury and similar circumstances where we had to play without one of our best players and we felt that appropriate fear and turned it up and got it going.”

The good news is, the Warriors will slowly regain the rest of their starting lineup over the next few weeks. Green, who was set to come back for Sunday night’s game but came down with flu-like symptoms, is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers. Durant will most likely be the next to return followed closely by Thompson. Both have been seen at recent practices regaining their strength.

Though Curry has been an essential piece of the winning puzzle the past few years, Golden State’s playoff roster, which still has a chance of including two-way contract player Quinn Cook who has played quality minutes in Curry’s absence, runs deep, a fact that gives Kerr confidence going into the postseason with or without Curry:

“Regular season or playoffs, we can beat anybody in the league without Steph.”