The star point guard is currently a game-time decision for the tilt between the Nuggets and Warriors in Oakland on Friday, and his health is easily the biggest factor in the outcome of a potential series-swinging Game 3.
The Nuggets will have to sort out a way to score in the half court while Golden State will hope the inevitable roar from Oracle Arena will provide a shot of adrenaline for Curry and the rest of the team.
Will Golden State get another gutsy effort from its best player en route to a big home win, or will the Nuggets take advantage of a wounded Warriors club?
Time: Friday, April 26, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN 2
Where: Oracle Arena; Oakland, CA
Series Record: Warriors 1 - Nuggets 1
Key Storyline: What, If Anything, Will the Warriors Get from Curry?
There are only two things that will weigh more heavily on the outcome of tonight's tilt than the health of Curry:
1. Electricity to turn the lights on in the gym.
2. The ongoing societal stability that allows recreational sports leagues like the NBA to exist.
That's about it, though.
Golden State has found a way to compensate for the loss of the largely overrated, defensively invisible David Lee by going small. But there's not a lineup gimmick on earth that could make up for the absence of the Warriors' best player.
Curry's sprained ankle in Game 2 looked ugly, but the fact that he returned to play the fourth quarter seemed to be a good sign. Yet here the Warriors are, hours away from Game 3 and lacking a clear answer on Curry's availability.
If he can't go, the Nuggets have a major advantage as their defense can revert to something that looks less like a terrified, scrambling mess and more like a legitimate NBA scheme. Curry's presence on the floor necessitates constant attention, and Denver has tried to prevent him from doing damage with at least one defender throughout the series.
The results have been mixed as Curry succumbed to the pressure in Game 1 but totally overcame it with 30 points and 13 assists in Game 2.
Without Curry, Golden State will have to lean even more heavily on Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson to shoulder the scoring load in the backcourt. Thompson has looked more than capable of stepping up, having scored an average of 21.5 points on a combined 18-of-30 from the field in Games 1 and 2, but the lack of defensive attention he's been enjoying won't continue if Curry's not on the court with him.
It's pretty simple, folks: If Curry can gut out something like 30 effective minutes, the Warriors are in great shape. If he can't, Denver is poised to snatch a road win.
But there's plenty more to discuss in what's become the NBA's most exciting first-round series.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Nuggets: Julyan Stone (knee, out for playoffs), Danilo Gallinari (knee, out for playoffs)
Warriors: Stephen Curry (ankle, questionable for Game 3), David Lee (hip, out for playoffs), Brandon Rush (knee, out for playoffs)
Projected Starting Lineups
Nuggets: Ty Lawson (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), Andre Iguodala (SF), Kenneth Faried (PF), Kosta Koufos (C)
Warriors: Jarrett Jack (PG), Stephen Curry (SG), Klay Thompson (SF), Harrison Barnes (PF), Andrew Bogut (C)
*Note: These lineups are comprised with as many hunches as they are with actual information. Mark Jackson could very well start Carl Landry or Draymond Green over Barnes, and Curry's status remains uncertain.
The Nuggets Will Win If...
They solve the Warriors' surprisingly effective zone defense.
Denver was the most athletically dominant team in the league during the 2012-13 regular season, piling up points in the paint and transition buckets like crazy. But the Nuggets aren't floor-spacers in the half court, and Danilo Gallinari's injury has now made them even more vulnerable to defensive schemes that dare them to fire away from long range.
The Warriors didn't play much zone during the regular season and when they did, the results were often ugly. But against the Nuggets in Game 2, Golden State managed to coax a number of low-percentage perimeter attempts from their bricktastic opponents.
Denver has hit just 12-of-42 from beyond the arc in the series.
The answer to the Warriors' zone probably isn't more shots from Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala, neither of whom cracked 32 percent from long range on the season, so a more creative approach might be necessary.
If George Karl can figure out a way to penetrate Golden State's zone defense, forcing Andrew Bogut to step up, secondary passes over the top to JaVale McGee and Faried will be there—particularly if the Warriors are playing undersized forwards at the 4.
It's not always easy to beat a zone by driving, but Denver really doesn't have another option. If the Nuggets can create some momentum by attacking the Warriors in the half court (instead of bailing them out by hoisting up threes), they might be able to take back control of the series.
The Warriors Will Win If...
They ride the wave of sound.
Oracle Arena is going to be electric on Friday night. Warriors fans haven't gotten a chance to support their team in a home playoff game since the "We Believe" days of Baron Davis and Don Nelson in 2007.
Suffice it to say, they'll be hyped.
Decibels don't score baskets, but they sure can provide a figurative shot of adrenaline. If Curry's still doubtful about his ability to play when he's coming out of the tunnel, you can bet that he'll suddenly feel a lot better when he hears the deafening roar of the home fans.
And after playing in a hostile and thin-aired environment in Denver, Golden State's young players (like Thompson and Barnes) will get an extra jolt from their first experience with the legendary volume of the "Roaracle."
If the rafters are shaking, the Nuggets are going to find themselves on similarly unstable ground.
Sometimes, strategic matchups and injury concerns stop mattering. If Warriors fans show up on Friday like they have in the past, Golden State could overcome just about anything against Denver.
I've belabored the point enough, but it's just impossible to make a prediction on the outcome of Game 3 without a clearer picture of Curry's health.
According to Sam Amick of USA Today, Curry's teammates are all but certain that he'll suit up and play. But even then, we can't know how effective he'll be until he actually hits the hardwood.
Curry's status aside (for good this time, I promise), Golden State has actually shown itself to have a couple of strategic advantages. The Nuggets offense essentially has one dimension, and while its transition game is undeniably excellent, it's also predictable.
That predictability allows the Warriors to focus their defensive efforts on slowing down Denver's transition offense by getting back on D and limiting turnovers. That's not easy to do, but at least the Warriors don't have to worry about any strange offensive wrinkles or half-court sets.
In addition, Golden State has the advantage of momentum. It's an old adage that a playoff series doesn't really start until the home team loses. With their big road win in Game 2, the Warriors "started" the series by taking control in a hostile environment.
Look for them to ride their superior shooting and home-court advantage to a 2-1 series lead. Oh, and if Curry plays, this one might not be all that close.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist a final mention there.)
Prediction: Warriors 112, Nuggets 109