OAKLAND -- The travel is constant and the games keep coming, each more demanding and important than before. But not until dragging themselves into the team facility Saturday could the Warriors fully comprehend the endurance test that is the NBA playoffs.
Before Stephen Curry hobbled off the floor Friday night, the Warriors were new to the room, unburdened by expectation, floating on a raft of blissful ignorance.
Minds free and hearts light, they were having fun, figuring they'd keep playing until somebody stops them.
Well, now, reality has climbed into their heads. They have to consider the absence of Curry, their catalyst and leader, at Oracle Arena on Sunday afternoon for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio.
Suddenly, their hearts are heavier and their minds not so free.
The Warriors are learning what the Thunder discovered with the loss of Russell Westbrook and what the Clippers realized with the injury to Blake Griffin. The Lakers without Kobe Bryant were overmatched, just as the Celtics played uphill without Rajon Rondo. Chicago is another matter, because it has gone all season without Derrick Rose.
When a star falls, the production and personality of the team can't help but take a hit. Taking a hit during the playoffs tends to be fatal.
Curry has not been ruled out and surely will make every attempt to play on his aching left ankle, aggravated when he rolled it in the fourth quarter of Game 3 Friday night. He's used to the Tender Ankle Blues and expects to give it a go.
"It doesn't have to be 100 percent, as long as I can be confident that I won't do any further damage," Curry said Saturday. "I have a feeling I'll be at that point (Sunday), no problem."
Even if Steph makes it onto the court, which might require a painkilling injection, how effective will he be? For all the notice given his gorgeous jump shot, his offense is more about movement, sprinting around screens and using clever footwork to dodge defenders.
If Curry can't move comfortably and with certainty, how on earth can he be the central figure of the offense, much less the best player on the team?
If he can't do both, he certainly will be exploited on defense -- the component coach Mark Jackson cites as crucial to his team's chances of winning not only Game 4 but the best-of-seven series.
The delicate balance maintained by the Warriors throughout these playoffs -- finding ways to dictate tempo, maintain pace and successfully offset the loss of power forward David Lee -- comes back to the availability and production of Curry.
If Curry can be the full Steph, the Warriors have reason to believe. If he can't, they must spend considerable time flicking doubt off their shoulders.
Will the three-guard rotation -- Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack -- becomes two or two and a half? Who will, should Curry be out or limited, take the minutes left behind? And, of course, they all know there is no adequate replacement for Curry on the bench -- or in the league.
"All of us prepared ourselves mentally and physically to be ready to excel when put in these situations," Jack said. "In the playoffs, the rotation is cut down and obviously guys' minutes are extended."
When minutes are extended, more stress is placed on the endurance of those being pushed. Fatigue becomes a factor and defense, which is mostly about effort, can suffer. That's when winning can become secondary to survival, and champions separate themselves from contenders.
The Spurs know the attrition game. They play it well; point guard Tony Parker is nursing a calf bruise. They own a lot of jewelry. They might be the most consistent postseason presence in American sport. They don't have many more years with this group, led by the fabulous Tim Duncan.
But the Spurs don't lose and don't know how to surrender. They have to be beaten.
"This is a heavyweight battle," Jackson said. "We can win on their floor. They can win on our floor.
"It's going to be a great series."
It has been a great series. It won't be nearly as great if Steph can't be Steph, the single most powerful reason for the Warriors to have faith.
The NBA playoffs, by design, are cruel and unforgiving. The Warriors are learning of its challenges the only way they can, by experiencing them firsthand, with the closed fist of hardship.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.