Can you imagine being one of multiple bettors out there who jumped on the Clippers at 18-to-1 to win it all soon after the Stephen Curry injury news broke?
It was a shrewd play considering the potential payoff and the fact that the reigning MVP might not be available until it was too late to prevent Golden State from staving off elimination. A Grade I knee strain wasn’t the end of the world, but did loom as a major hurdle to the Warriors run at history. In the span of less than 10 hours, everything changed.
That smart gamble was suddenly cursed. Chris Paul broke his right hand trying to slap the ball out of Gerald Henderson’s hands on a drive midway through the third quarter. He knew immediately something had gone terribly wrong.
After undergoing surgery, it's likely Paul is done for the season and the Clippers are too. His recovery time is estimated at four-to-six weeks, which L.A. simply wouldn’t be able to survive without him.
The Westgate LV SuperBook has placed 60-to-1 odds on L.A. winning it all after Paul’s fracture.
Blake Griffin also hurt his left quad, ultimately sitting out the final 5:48 as the Trail Blazers coasted to a 98-84 series equalizer. He's done as well, so the Trail Blazers are now favored to get out of the West’s 4/5 series.
Consider that the Clippers actually went into Game 4 looking at it as a must-win. Curry’s injury created an incentive for the Clips to defeat Portland in five games since the payoff would potentially be an earlier start date for the Western Conference semifinals. Playing Golden State without Curry in Oakland would’ve mitigated a huge disadvantage, setting them up to have a commanding lead over the Warriors before the earliest time frame for a potential Curry return arrived.
Instead, Paul left injured. The Blazers dominated the fourth quarter 32-20. The series is a lock to go six games, which means the Western Conference semifinals wouldn’t start until May 1 at the earliest. Think the Warriors, already immense Trail Blazers fans for the evening, weren’t encouraged by what unfolded? No one wants to see anybody injured, especially other athletes, but there’s no question good fortune smiled on the defending champs. Clipper misery became Golden State’s rainbow after a rough day. If L.A. and Portland go seven games, Curry would be under no pressure to try and rush back. The Western Conference semifinals wouldn’t start until May 3, which would give him a chance at being cleared for a Game 3 without fear that he’s recklessly intruding on his recovery time.
Keep in mind, those dates are based on a best-case scenario provided there are no complications, but it appears the basketball gods are in favor of not having injuries sabotage Golden State’s run at a repeat. The Warriors have the task of finishing off the Rockets without Curry, something that seems to be a formality considering he didn’t play at all in the second half they won 65-38 in Game 4.
A wet spot on the floor at Houston’s Toyota Center took out the MVP, but it’s unlikely any of the Warriors return to the scene of the crime for a Game 6. Even without Curry, Golden State is favored by nearly double-digits over the Rockets and will have its formidable homecourt advantage in play.
How long Curry will ultimately winds up sitting out remains to be seen, but MRI results revealed a Grade I MCL sprain of his knee that will sideline him for at least two weeks until he’s re-evaluated.
Sportsbooks temporarily took all futures bets on projected Finals matchups, NBA championships and conference winners off the board as they awaited news on Curry, anticipating the Spurs and Cavs would pass the Warriors as favorites to win the title for the first time all season.
Once Curry’s MRI news came in, the Spurs were placed as 7-to-4 favorites at Westgate, while Golden State moved from 4-to-5 to 7/4 as well. Cleveland moved up to 3-to-1, OKC to 10-to-1.The Clips were at 18-to-1. Tuesday’s post-Paul injury update had the Warriors at 5-to-4, San Antonio at 9-to-5, Cleveland still at 3-to-1, OKC at an attractive-looking 12-to-1 and the Clips all the way down at 60-to-1.
The news that it was Grade I and not a Grade II also brought sighs of relief in the Bay area, since a more significant sprain would require a six-week recovery, costing him the rest of the season even if Golden State qualified for the Finals. As things stand now, he’ll take a few weeks off, watching his teammates eliminate Houston before likely missing the first few games of a series against either the Clippers or Trail Blazers.
Golden State values Curry’s long-term health and importance above all, so now it likely dodges the bullet of having to protect him from himself, especially since Curry has already proven he’ll push to play at all costs.
“He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve ever been around,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Curry in an interview with USA Today. “That’s what flies so far under the radar for him. He’s so good, his shot is so great, his ballhandling is so great, the oopty-doo, and you forget to look at how competitive he is.
“He’s a (expletive) beast, and that’s what makes him who he is. He wants to be out there. He wants to play.”
That same inner drive that has fueled his ascent in becoming the NBA’s best player could’ve definitely worked against him here, since rushing back could’ve had major repercussions. Paul’s absence means he won’t be tempted, though that doesn’t mean Golden State is out of the woods, just that its task of surviving an ill-timed injury became far more manageable.
As things stand, I’d still look elsewhere in picking an NBA champion despite the Warriors catching a break. Before the slip and knee injury, Curry was returning from an ankle sprain that had cost him two games in the series and became an issue down the stretch, which leaves us to wonder just how much the pursuit of 73 wins will end up costing the Warriors in the long run.
Over the past few months, my concern over just how the energy that the defending champions were expending chasing the immortality the ’95-’96 Bulls had achieved was expressed multiple times. You could see the physical toll it was taking, specifically on Curry, who hadn’t been 100 percent since suffering a bruised lower leg on Dec. 28, then spraining his ankle multiple times over the final months of the regular season.
There have been games where he looked completely gassed, and despite the fact he was able to sit out the fourth quarter of so many games because Golden State had the result in hand, he still logged 2700 regular-season minutes. Now there will be the issue of regaining his rhythm and stamina upon returning, with the Spurs or Thunder taking no pity on him in a potential conference finals.
Golden State is incredibly deep and talented, but I’ve already had the Spurs as my projected winner all season, sticking by them even when the Warriors managed to win two key late games against them in full pursuit of 73 wins. The rationale was always that San Antonio would be the fresher team when late May rolled around due to how they handled the regular-season. Kawhi Leonard averaged 33 minutes per game, same as Curry, but ended up logging just 2380 due to injury. No Spurs player logged more action.
The Warriors will now have to win a few games without their superstar before easing him back in with the bullets flying. I don’t see them surviving this. A wet spot took out Curry, but the pursuit of 73 wins, which seems trivial without a championship to go along with it, certainly played a role. Stick with Golden State to win a second straight NBA title at your own risk, but at least the pursuit for those who have already backed the Warriors lives on.
They don’t have to rip up their tickets the way unfortunate Clippers-backers already have to.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA