Stephen Curry on return: 'Felt like the first day of school again'

ByChris Haynes ESPN logo
Sunday, December 31, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After missing the past 11 games for the Golden State Warriors with a right ankle sprain, Stephen Curry returned in emphatic fashion Saturday night.

The two-time NBA 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, he didn't miss 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."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he 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 3 from the top of the key.

Fourteen 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 with the flick of his wrist, the sharpshooter quickly got the shot off and drained a corner 3-pointer. Many of the fans in attendance at Oracle Arena jumped out of their seats.

That was the zest the Warriors' offense had 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. Fans held their breath, but they collectively exhaled once he hopped up to get back on offense.

When Curry exited the game with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, he received 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 re-entered the game and embarrassed Marc Gasol. Moments in, Gasol switched onto Curry, and the point guard crossed up the big man twice, leaving Gasol staggering back as Curry swished his 10th 3-pointer.

"It seems like he does that to a lot of bigs who try to guard him," Durant explained. "It's just spectacular."

It was just Curry's 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."

The Warriors' 141 points were more than they've scored in any of the 11 games played without Curry this season, and the team's 18 3-pointers were the most since his injury as well. It's also the most the Warriors have ever scored against the Grizzlies.

Kerr joked that even Memphis was hot "just because Steph was in the building." The Grizzlies shot 52.1 percent from the field and went 15-for-21 (71.4 percent) from 3-point range.

"Steph makes everybody shoot better," Kerr said. "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 against the Cavs but knew he wasn't 100 percent. Still, Curry said it was a frustrating experience.

"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 Coach Q [assistant 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. Durantchipped in 20 points, five boards and nine assists.

Golden State doesn't play again until Wednesday inDallas.

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