The two-time MVP exploded for 38 points, shot 13-for-17 from the floor and nailed a season-high 10 of 13 3-pointers in 26 minutes to guide the Warriors to a 141-128 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
“I just wanted that feeling again,” Curry said. “It was pretty special.
“It felt like it was the first day of school again.”
It was Curry’s ninth 30-point game of the season, and his 10 treys were the highest total for any NBA player this season. Although it was nearly a month since he last played, Curry appeared not to have missed a beat.
“I was just happy to be back out there with my guys,” he said. “You sit and watch for 11 games, you just wonder what it’s going to be like to get back out there, and I finally got that opportunity. I really didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to get some good reps, get up and down, see how my wind was and, surprisingly, I think my body felt way better than I expected.”
Head coach Steve Kerr wasn’t surprised as Curry enjoyed the second-most efficient game of his career when shooting 10 or more shots.
“Most guys you would say when they come back, maybe they’ll struggle a little bit to find their rhythm, but you don’t say that about Steph,” Kerr said, “because all it takes is one and he can be feeling it.”
Even though Curry was on a minutes restriction, it didn’t restrict his offensive prowess. He did whatever he wanted. Whether it was driving to the hole, popping in transition or moving around screens, the Grizzlies simply didn’t have an answer for him.
Curry played the first eight minutes of the game, producing seven points on two layups and a triple from the top of the key. Some 14 of Golden State’s 37 assists occurred in the first quarter, a mark that was one assist off the franchise record for assists in a period.
If there was any doubt Curry wasn’t his old self, a play late in the second quarter reminded fans of just how special he is. Curry passed the ball to Zaza Pachulia along the baseline and then ran behind the big man. Pachulia, without looking back, bounced the ball between his legs to Curry, and the sharpshooter quickly with the flick of his wrist got the shot off and drained a corner 3-pointer. Most of the fans in attendance at Oracle Arena jumped out of their seats.
That was the zest the Warriors’ offense has been missing for most of December. After the first two quarters, Curry recorded 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 from downtown in 14 minutes. In the third quarter, Curry even dived for the ball, saving it before going out of bounds and landing near camera personnel. The fans held their breath, but they collectively exhaled once he hopped up to get back on offense. When he exited the game with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, he was greeted to a standing ovation.
“That was phenomenal,” Kevin Durant said. “… I’m glad that he got it going because we got that needed spark. They came out and shot well tonight, so we needed that extra spark, especially from the 3-point line. It’s great to see him playing the game again.”
With the Warriors up 14 with 4:53 left in the contest, Curry reentered the game and embarrassed Marc Gasol. Moments in, Gasol switch onto him and Curry crossed him up twice, leaving Gasol staggering back, and Curry swished his 10th triple.
It was just his night. After that, he was subbed out for good.
“I was fighting my instinct,” Kerr said. “… He definitely talked me into leaving him out there for a few minutes.”
Added Durant on the Gasol play: “It seems like he does that to a lot of bigs who try to guard him. It’s just spectacular.”
The 141 points scored were more than the Warriors scored in any of the 11 games played without Curry, and the 18 3-pointers were the most since his injury, as well. It’s also the most the Warriors ever have scored against the Grizzlies.
“I mean, what can you say?” Kerr said. “… Even the other team went 13-for-21. Even they were hit just because Steph was in the building. Steph makes everybody shoot better. It’s crazy.”
Curry’s return came five days too late for the mega Christmas Day matchup with the rival Cleveland Cavaliers. He said he desperately wanted to give it a go, but knew he wasn’t 100 percent. Still, Curry said it was frustrating a day.
“It was weird because [that game] was right in that little in-between zone of assessing my body and knowing I wasn’t going to be 100 percent, but I could be well enough to play and not be in jeopardy of reinjuring myself,” he said. “I had that on my radar from the time I got hurt because I knew it was eight games from that New Orleans game to the Cleveland game and wanting to play because of how special it is to play on Christmas Day and obviously knowing who we were playing against. You can ask [assistant] Coach Q (Bruce Fraser), that was probably my worst pregame workout. I had no inspiration at all. I was out there mad the whole time because I wasn’t suiting up. So, I actually quit, stopped my workout like halfway through … If it wasn’t Christmas Day, it probably wouldn’t have been that hard to sit out because I wasn’t ready.”
Klay Thompson added 21 points and was 5-for-11 from downtown against Memphis. Durant chipped in 20 points, five boards and nine assists.
Golden State doesn’t play again until Wednesday in Dallas.