Idan Ravin is one of the most well-known athletic trainers in the world. The author of “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Heads of Basketball’s Best Players,” Ravin has worked with Blake Griffin, James Harden and Stephen Curry, among others, helping them become the best possible versions of themselves on and off the court.
Needless to say, Ravin has been paying close attention to the Western Conference Finals, as two of his top two clients – Curry and Harden, MVP and MVP runner-up – have squared off on one of basketball’s biggest stages. Curry’s Warriors lead the series 3-1, but Harden scored 45 points in Game 4 on Monday to lead the Rockets to a 128-115 win.
“It was amazing,” Ravin said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I was worried about Steph. That fall was pretty awful. But he’s just such a resilient guy. The concern I had was that if he sat out too long, he would kind of get anxious and so he went back to the scene of the crime as soon as he could and just went back in. When you take those horrible falls, the more time you think about it, the worse it gets. I was glad that (he) got back on the court.”
Curry fell awkwardly under the basket in the second quarter. He bit hard on a pump-fake, was upended and landed on his shoulder, head and neck. Almost any other player in Curry’s shoes would have sat out the rest of the game, especially with the Warriors leading the series 3-0.
Instead, Curry returned. He hit six three-pointers and scored 23 points in the loss.
Doug Gottlieb felt it was one of the most impressive things Curry has done all season.
“I agree,” Ravin said. “I haven’t talked to him today, but I have to imagine he was in a lot more pain than he led people to believe. I remember in the book I devoted a chapter to Steph. I was just talking about the idea that when he was coming to the NBA, people would question his toughness and I would kind of laugh. I’m thinking, you’re making (an assumption) on toughness based on socio-economic standing. Just because a kid comes from privilege and grows up in a good family and went to good schools, don’t assume that he’s soft. Yesterday was a great example of his toughness and just how committed he is to this on such a big stage.”
Curry, of course, has always been a great shooter, but his ball-handling has improved tremendously since coming into the league. Ravin deserves some credit for that.
“It has to be an extension of self,” Ravin said of dribbling. “Everything has got be done in a functional way. I just think over the years, the more minutes you play, the more time you spend, the faster you play, that ball becomes really an extension of your body. While there’s a lot of different drills (you can do to improve ball-handling) . . . he plays in a lot of situations that allow him to be creative. If you take a guy that’s got an amazing handle but he plays in a very rigid structure, you would never see that. It’s almost like taking a concert pianist and asking him to play ‘Chopsticks’ the whole time. So I think Steve Kerr’s done a great job of letting a concert pianist be a concert pianist. Same thing with Kevin McHale and James.”
Indeed, Harden may occasionally take a bad shot or have a bad possession, but as a coach, you want the ball in his hands. He had a clunker of a Game 3 – finishing with 17 points on 3-of-16 shooting – but he’s still averaging 32.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the series.
Harden’s strong Game 4 somewhat atoned for his crucial error at the end of Game 2. With the Rockets trailing 99-98 in the final seconds, Harden passed to Dwight Howard when he probably should have kept the ball and tried to create his own shot. Howard passed right back to Harden, who was smothered by Curry and Klay Thompson and was unable to even attempt a game-winning shot, much less make it.
As Ravin explained, though, that play isn’t why the Rockets lost Game 2 – just as missing a last-second field goal isn’t why a football team loses to its arch-rival; a lot more than the final play goes into the final result.
Harden, it is worth noting, also had a LeBron-like 38 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds that night.
“(Harden) can blame himself for that (last play),” Ravin said, “but you win like a team (and) you lose like a team.”
The Rockets will try to win like a team again Wednesday in Game 5. Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m. ET.