OAKLAND — As Kevin Durant lined up a 26-footer late in the first half, Stephen Curry rose from his second-row seat behind the Golden State Warriors bench and lifted his hands in the air. When Durant’s triple went down, Curry turned to the crowd, beckoning — as if he’d just splashed the shot himself.
With a sprained right ankle keeping Curry out of the Warriors’ 99-92 Christmas win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the two-time MVP made his mark as a hype man and sometime assistant coach. Just about everyone in the building noticed the sideline antics — aside from head coach Steve Kerr.
“I actually had to pay attention to what was going on on the floor,” Kerr joked. “I did not see him celebrating but it doesn’t surprise me.”
Amid the ensuing timeout, Curry wandered out onto the court to offer advice to Durant, leaned into the huddle to share his thoughts, talked with assistant Mike Brown and even made a comment to an official.
Largely hidden from sight during his injury absence, Curry was intent on soaking up the holiday scene. Later in the first half, Curry shouted defensive directions to Omri Casspi just before the Cavs inbounded the ball.
In the second half, the big screens showed him doing his famous goggle celebration, much to the delight of the Oracle Arena crowd.
Before the matinee, Curry went through what appeared to be his normal pregame routine, putting up dozens of shots, even hoisting — and making — 3s from the logo. Instead of punctuating his warm-up with his typical tunnel shot, Curry lounged on the bench, holding court with coaches, players and reporters.
There’s no moping for Curry.
“Steph is such a joy to be around,” Kerr said.
“The balance — having that work-life balance and family — Steph epitomizes that,” Kerr continued. “He loves life. He loves his family. He relies on his faith and the people around him, but he loves the game and he knows how lucky he is. He has this great perspective.”
The Warriors felt his absence once the game began, producing a ragged start marred by six turnovers in the opening eight minutes.
They missed his presence late, too, failing to ever pull ahead by more than nine points, even as the Cavs shot 31.8 percent from the field. In the second quarter, the Cavs missed all 17 shots they took from inside the arc.
While the guests couldn’t hit from close, the Warriors couldn’t connect from afar — with the exception of Klay Thompson.
“Without Steph, obviously, we don’t have the same spacing and flow and pace an all that,” Kerr said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up and Klay has been our rock all year long.”
Thompson was 4-for-7 from distance. The rest of the team was 6-for-30. With 1:33 to go, Thompson knocked down a 26-footer, giving the Warriors the lead for good. Thompson credited Draymond Green for finding him for one of 11 assists.
“He hit me right in the pocket and I just had to let it go,” Thompson said. “It was that simple.”
After watching the win from the second row, Curry shared a message for his colleagues and fans, via the NBA Twitter account, as he exited the arena.
“Another Warriors win on Christmas effort. Solid effort by the boys. Wish I could be out there with them, but next time — long season — go Dubs.”