PORTLAND (Oregon) • Stephen Curry, accompanied by a small crew of medical and support personnel, arrived at Moda Centre on Saturday afternoon, about four hours before Game 3 of the National Basketball Association Western Conference semi-final series between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Curry, Golden State's star guard, then played two-on-two, the latest phase of his recovery from a right knee sprain.
His coach Steve Kerr shared two observations. First, Curry carved up Chris DeMarco, a player-development coach who was assigned to defend the player. Second, Curry refused to pass the ball to his team-mate, assistant coach Jarron Collins. "But I wouldn't, either," Kerr said, deadpan, before adding: "He came out of it fine. It was his first actual basketball."
Given Golden State's aspirations of retaining their title, the game before the game was important - important because Curry appeared to be nearing a return and even more important because his team went on to lose 108-120 without him.
While they have survived and even thrived without him for much of the post-season, Saturday's setback reinforced his value.
They will take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the best-of-seven series today, but Portland regained their rhythm in Game 3, finally capitalising on a chance to steal a win in Curry's absence. In fairness, not even Curry's shot-making pyrotechnics would have masked his team's breakdowns.
Damian Lillard collected a play-off best 40 points and 10 assists for the Trail Blazers. Al-Farouq Aminu, a rangy forward, added 23 points and shot eight of nine from the field.
Portland broke two franchise play-off records for three-pointers in a single game. They shot 46.5 per cent from the field but fired at a 56.7 per cent clip (17 for 30) from downtown. Lillard was the biggest contributor, knocking down a record eight threes in 13 attempts.
"I didn't think it was on me to go win the game or anything, but it was my job to be aggressive from the start," he said. "A lot of times, the team will go as far as I go."
The point guard, who shot 14 for 27 from the field, scored 25 points in the first half and 10 in the fourth quarter.
Coach Terry Stotts played three of his starters for at least 41 minutes each. "We had to do everything to win this game," he said.
Draymond Green had 37 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to lead the Warriors, and Klay Thompson finished with 35 points.
But Kerr felt that his players failed to move the ball, fouled too much and struggled in several other areas. He had a long list of lapses.
"We couldn't get a loose ball or a rebound to save our lives," he said, adding: "I just didn't feel like we played with the desperation that's necessary to win a play-off game."
As if the series had not taken enough of a dramatic turn, Green went so far as to make a guarantee for Game 4. "We'll win," he said.
Before Saturday's game, Kerr said his players had done a good job of adjusting to life without Curry, who has not played since April 24 when he sprained his knee slipping on a wet spot on the floor.
But the coach may have to rethink now. Curry will need to regain his timing and conditioning - and the Warriors could do with him.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS