Stephen Curry made history on Monday night when he triumphantly returned to the court for the Golden State Warriors. Playing for the first time since suffering a sprained MCL, the MVP scored 40 points, including a record 17 in overtime, to spark the Warriors to a 132-125 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series.
Curry didn’t start, and head coach Steve Kerr said the plan was to play his star for about 25 minutes off the bench. But plans changed when point guard Shaun Livingston was ejected in the second quarter. Curry, who threw up an airball in the first quarter, found himself back on the floor for extended minutes and when it mattered most didn't seem to miss a beat.
"Put us in a tough spot, obviously," Kerr said of Livingston’s ejection. "Especially with Steph's comeback, whatever you want to call it. We were expecting to play Steph maybe 25 minutes and just monitor him and see how he held up. And he looked like he -- once he got going, he didn't look tired."
It wasn’t hard to tell that Curry had played just one half of basketball since Game 1 of the first round. He missed his first nine three-pointers, but seemed to settle in towards the end of regulation. When the game went into the extra session tied at 111-111, Curry took over like he had done so many times in the regular season.
"It took me awhile to get back in the flow," Curry said. "When you miss three weeks, it’s really weird to walk back on the court. Like, the crowd out there going crazy and that competitive atmosphere again. So, just trying to get my bearings straight, make some plays and try and get a rhythm. And it took 48 minutes and things finally clicked."
To say "things finally clicked" would be an understatement. The 17 overtime points were both a record for the playoffs and regular season, and the star guard finished the night with 40 points on 50 percent shooting. Curry crossed over the Blazers, scored in the paint against them, and made sure to drop some pull-up jumpers on Al-Farouq Al-Aminu, who had given Curry a stare in Game 3. Curry outscored the Blazers (14 points) and his teammates (4 points).
It didn't take an expert lip reader to figure out what Curry was saying after the outburst: "I'm back!" In 37 minutes, Curry missed out on a triple-double by just one rebound and two assists.
The Warriors had held their own this postseason without Curry. After beating the Houston Rockets in five games, Golden State had a 2-1 series lead over Portland, winning the first two games by double-digits. But the Warriors clearly missed Curry’s presence in their Game 3 loss, and his return came not a moment too soon.
With Curry on the floor in Game 4, Golden State outscored Portland by 21 points. He neutralized the impact of Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who scored 36 points and had put up 40 points two nights earlier.
The series returns to Golden State on Wednesday for Game 5. Curry is expected to be back in the starting lineup, making the Warriors heavy favorites to move on to the Western Conference Finals.