Stephen Curry came to play. He wore his game face and his game clothes. And they wouldn’t even let him sit on the bench.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr is testing his superstar by not testing his superstar’s ankle. The decision to sit Curry for Game 3 did not appeal to Curry, and it did not lead to a victory as it had in Game 2. The series is in Houston now, and the Rockets are good enough to withstand a few punches at home, even though they nearly blew Thursday’s 97-96 thriller.

MORE: Ranking the 16 head coaches in the NBA playoffs

Curry hopes to play in Game 4. He definitely hopes to avoid letting the Rockets even up this series that once seemed so dramatically lopsided. The Warriors probably can win it without Curry, but no one wants to be dragged out to Game 7 in the first round — though even if that happens, the 2008 Celtics and 2014 Spurs showed that championships and even playoff dominance is possible after an ugly opening series.

But the ankle is sensitive. Curry clarified that it’s his lower ankle, not the upper ankles that caused him to miss so many games early in his career. That’s a good thing. But the Rockets have Patrick Beverley, perhaps the strongest and most physical point guard defender in the NBA. Then there’s Chris Paul.

Paul’s Clippers made the young Trail Blazers into their punching bags in the first two games of the Western Conference’s 4-5 series. That series is headed to Portland now and could turn as quickly — more quickly, even — than the Rockets-Warriors battle. But don’t count out Paul, especially with Blake Griffin so thoroughly reintegrating himself into the lineup after an extensive absence with two injuries and a boneheaded suspension.

MORE: Photos from Warriors' hilarious fashion shoot

The Clippers have bad blood with everyone. Paul is the heel of all heels. If Beverley is the scrappy role player who gets on Curry’s nerves, Paul is the scrappy superstar with the skills to push Curry to the limit on both ends. The last time the Warriors lost a playoff series, Paul was the villain. He flopped and pushed and ground the Clippers to a seven-game series victory in 2014’s first round.

The Clippers are a tough team to read in these playoffs. The

ir four best players can hang with everyone, but they still seem uncomfortable in settling for a fifth player to join that lineup. DeAndre Jordan has had a tremendous, All-NBA-worthy season, but Griffin might be a better fit at center rather than power forward. The defense took a step forward, but the offense dropped from the best in the NBA last season to eighth this year.

Still, there’s no way the Warriors want to take any risks. Not with the Clippers, and not with Curry’s career. Usually, the best way to keep your players rested in the playoffs is to sweep. That’s not an option anymore, but the Warriors don’t need a rest as much as Curry needs a rest. That’s why you can understand where Kerr’s coming from.

MORE: Check out Sean Deveney's official NBA awards ballot

Players don’t always see the long picture. Coaches don’t, either. It’s not how they’re wired. That one-game-at-a-time sloganeering is more than cliché bluster. But Kerr has been a general manager and a broadcaster, two positions where the long view is most important. He knows the stakes. He knows he needs Curry at his MVP best.

Even one more loss is worth the risk.