Noah Graham/Getty Images
He finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while shooting 6-of-16 from the field and 3-of-12 on threes during the 121-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors in a rematch of the 2019 Finals. His start was understandably rusty. Curry didn’t score in the first quarter on only two field-goal attempts while shadowed by an array of Raptors.
“It felt great. There was a lot of energy,” Curry said. “The anticipation for getting back out there tonight, just getting out on the floor and seeing what was going to happen. It’s kind of a cool moment just with the excitement and energy in the building. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the minutes restrictions and all that, just trying to make my first shot and get comfortable out there. Throughout the 27 minutes, it felt good.”
Eventually, the two-time MVP found his sea legs and started to heat up with a few plays only he could make:
He brought the joy back:
Curry’s presence in the lineup unsurprisingly lifted the level of play of everyone around him. His passing was as effective as it was flashy, attracting 10 defensive eyeballs as he flung a laser to a wide-open teammate:
“I didn’t even know it was coming,” Andrew Wiggins said with a smile.
“Have you seen me play for 10 years?” Curry joked of his pass postgame.
Having Curry back on the floor served as an oasis of relief for Golden State fans—and NBA fans in general—who have dealt with a frustrating product that hardly resembled what was once arguably the most exciting brand of basketball ever played. But now the Warriors will look forward to evaluating the young players on their roster and seeing how they fit as they finish the 2019-20 season.
“I think there will be a sense of energy and enthusiasm the rest of the season because to me, this is sort of the beginning of next season in a lot of ways,” Kerr said. “I think we are starting to get some clarity as to what our team is going to look like, and having Steph back is a huge, huge part of that. The next step will be getting Klay [Thompson] back, and that won’t be until next season. But I think the last 20 games are really going to be a springboard into next year.”
Even playing without Curry for the last 58 games, the Warriors have largely maintained the offensive style that has been so lethal for so many years.
No, it was not exactly the same with the carousel of G Leaguers operating in place of a quartet of future Hall of Famers, but Kerr stuck to what has worked for him in the past and is betting that the new crop of young players can be plugged in and put in a position to succeed.
“How could we possibly be the same team losing the guys we lost? We’ll be a new, different version of the Warriors,” Kerr said. “But it’s an exciting challenge, one that our staff, management, players are embracing. All of a sudden, Steph and Klay and Draymond [Green] are the vets, and we’re raising all these young guys to help them develop so that they can be part of the next era of our team.”
Noah Graham/Getty Images
The Warriors have spent this season evaluating unestablished young players and instilling their philosophies, unencumbered by the pressure and spotlight associated with the sheer presence of Curry. Now it’s time to see if those developing players can complement the superstar point guard.
“As we continue to go these last 19 games now, I’ll try to be more purposeful about some of the calls we make and trying to build that chemistry as we move forward,” Curry added. “There’s a lot of flow to what we are doing, and I think everybody was just excited to see the spacing and the domino effect of how they defended me, and we can build off that.”
How do Wiggins’ isolations and mid-range-heavy game fit into the motion and movement of Golden State’s offense? Can Damion Lee provide a reliable shooting threat off the bench? Will rookies Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole continue to make strides toward providing a second-unit punch? Will Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss end up a better fit in the frontcourt?
“It’s even an adjustment for me because this year, we have called a lot more plays without Steph, and there’s a different rhythm to the game,” Kerr said. “When Steph’s on the floor, we’re not going to call as many plays. Guys have to get used to just running down the floor and spacing and setting screens for him, and then it’s going to be drive-and-kick and move the ball and play.”
The shine of Curry’s return will fade and begin to feel normal. But as the Warriors enter their final stretch of the season, they can start to form an idea of what their future will look like around the Curry nucleus and which of those many young options will be involved.
“It doesn’t feel normal right now. I’m wondering why everyone is here,” Kerr joked. “I had to remind myself when I walked it. I saw everyone. I said, ‘Oh yeah, Steph’s coming back. That’s why.’ So it doesn’t feel normal yet, but I’m sure it will. Unless you guys all leave after the first game because we’re in last place.”
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Now, the stage is beginning to return to the old normal, and it’s time for those young players to sink or swim.
“This is the beginning of something, not the end of something,” Kerr said. “That’s a palpable feeling in our locker room. Everybody is excited.”
“To me, it feels like it’s on again,” he added. “We’re now through the woods, and we can start looking ahead and using these games to prepare ourselves to reach a higher level of play.”
Curry brought back the joy in his return, and that is an important first step toward helping the Warriors ascend back to their higher plane of existence.
“He makes the game fun,” Wiggins said. “He makes the game exciting.”
The rest of the basketball world would agree.
Follow Will on Twitter: @wontgottlieb.