OAKLAND — Stephen Curry was standing in front of the Golden State Warriors’ bench, engaging in one of those elaborate, synchronized handshake routines that JaVale McGee is famous for, just before tipoff on Tuesday night.
That’s where the two-time MVP, making his return from a left MCL sprain, began his evening — on the bench.
Once he came off of that bench, though, Curry scored 28 points in 27 minutes as the Warriors took a 2-0 series advantage in the Western Conference Semifinals with a 121-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
After Saturday night’s Game 1 rout, head coach Steve Kerr said Oracle Arena was as loud as he’d heard it all year.
That was before Curry strolled onto the floor with 4:20 to go in the first quarter, when the crowd rose to its feet and roared.
“That was a special moment when Steph checked into the game,” Kerr said. “And that’s always fun to hear our home crowd.Steph has worked really hard over the last six weeks to prepare for this and I love the ovation that he got.”
Playing his first NBA game since March 23, Curry showed no signs of rust, swishing a 29-footer promptly after entering.
“It was kind of electric in there,” Draymond Green said. “Then for him to hit that 3[-pointer] that fast, it brought a lot of life to the building, a lot of life to our team, a spirit.”
“It’s pretty fitting, for sure.”
With just over a minute to go in the opening quarter, Curry lost his handle in front of the Warrior bench, collected and drilled a 32-footer.
He played like he never left.
Kerr kept him on the bench from the tip for an assortment of reasons. He wanted to keep Curry to around 25 minutes for conditioning reasons, not because of his knee. Plus, the Warriors had barreled to a Game 1 win with Nick Young in the lineup.The Curry effect, tilting the gravity of the floor and forcing the Pelicans to pick him up as soon as soon he hit center court,was undeniable.
“He was Steph,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t take long to warm up. That’s for sure.”
As was the case in the first half, Curry began the third quarter on the bench. He celebrated an emphatic Green block with a detailed pantomime, as though he were cleaning an invisible window.
When Curry returned to the action, he delivered one of his trademark moves, striking a pose while his 3-point attempt was still in midair. Holding his follow through, Curry froze like an Olympic sprinter standing in the blocks. Including that triple,Curry poured in 13 points in the period.
His final shift began with 6:59 on the clock and the Warriors holding a 101-98 advantage. As he’d down throughout the night,Curry buoyed the Warriors who had pushed the lead to 12 less than a minute-and-a-half later.
Curry sank his fifth and final 3-pointer — what should have been the dagger — with 1:47 to go. With the 26-footer, the lead ballooned to 13, 119-106, and fans began spilling toward the exits. The Pelicans proceeded to fire off a 7-0 run, but theWarriors held on to head to New Orleans with the series lead.