One loss is not enough to put a scare into the Golden State Warriors. But the fear of losing Stephen Curry to a serious injury threatened to change a series in the blink of an eye.
Curry crash landed, after imitating a pro wrestler taking a leap from the top rope, midway through the second quarter Monday. He fell on his right arm, banged his head against the floor and lay motionless.
That’s how quickly a playoff series in the NBA could turn. As it turned out, Curry was not diagnosed with a concussion, avoided an arm injury and was able to make a comeback. The Warriors were lucky to walk away with just one loss.
James Harden, pulling one more trick out of his bushy beard, scored 45 points as the Houston Rockets got on the board in the Western Conference finals with a 128-115 victory over the Warriors. All things considered, it was a good result for both sides.
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Jeff Sherman, oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas sports book. “It was a bad fall. I thought Curry could have easily separated his shoulder, and that’s his shooting shoulder. I can’t believe he was able to come back and play in the game. That’s like a victory in itself.”
The best shooter on the planet is good to go, and the Warriors are going home with a 3-1 series lead. The Curry-LeBron James showdown in the NBA Finals is still on.
The Rockets, 35-point losers in Game 3, did not quit and were red hot. A 4½-point underdog in Game 4, Houston made 8 of 9 3-pointers and raced to a 45-22 lead after one quarter.
Sherman said the game was basically a wash for bookmakers, with most bettors either laying the points with Golden State or taking the money line of plus-170 with Houston. It appeared to be an easy win for the home ’dog, with Curry out and the Rockets rolling, but rarely is anything routine in the NBA.
Curry’s 3 cut the Warriors’ deficit to 104-98 with 8:22 remaining, yet their rally ran out of steam. He hit another 3 to put the score over the total of 214½ with 4:28 to go.
The Westgate’s proposition for made 3-pointers was 19½. Golden State made 20 and lost by double digits. Houston hit 17 3s, with Harden shooting 7-for-11.
It was an entertaining game, including hot shooting, hard fouls and a head-first dive by cartoon-character referee Joey Crawford, who tripped while running along with a fast break.
Curry’s injury scare had the potential to change the entire playoff picture. The Warriors were overwhelming favorites (2-7 odds) to win the title before their loss in Houston, and their position remains just as strong.
If Cleveland, an 8-point favorite over Atlanta in today’s Game 4, closes the curtain in the East, the Cavaliers will get valuable time to rest before the NBA Finals open June 4. It’s time James needs to recover from carrying a team on his broad shoulders.
James has led the way to a 3-0 series lead without injured forward Kevin Love and with point guard Kyrie Irving temporarily sidelined because of a bad knee.
There is no more Big Three. Matthew Dellavedova is running the point, and James is winning with New York Knicks castoffs J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as his primary supporting cast. Cleveland is again a one-man show, just as it was in 2007, when James carried the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. San Antonio swept that series.
“I think Golden State would do the same thing here,” said Sherman, who estimates the Warriors would open as about minus-330 series favorites over the Cavaliers. “If Irving is not healthy, and it’s LeBron minus Irving and Love, I don’t think Cleveland has got a chance at all.
“If it’s LeBron and a bunch of old Knicks against the Warriors, I would expect Golden State to win in five games.”
Irving is questionable to play today, and expect him to sit and continue to rest with the Cavaliers in control of the Hawks. James totaled 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in a 114-111 overtime win in Game 3.
In NBA postseason history, a team has faced a 3-0 hole 118 times, and never has a team come back to win the series, according to ESPN Stats &Info. It’s not about to happen now, either.
The Warriors will be about 6½-point favorites in Game 1 of the Finals, Sherman said, “if Curry is fine, and these teams move on.” And Curry said he’s fine, and these teams will move on soon enough.
But public perceptions can shift — say, for example, if the Warriors struggle to close and the Cavaliers sweep — so Sherman said the Finals series price could open as low as minus-250 and as high as minus-400 in favor of Golden State.
“There are still a lot of things that could change,” Sherman said. “Look what happened with Curry. It was good to see him come back.”
Curry and the Warriors, who appeared unstoppable, survived an unexpected scare.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.