- Steve Dykes/Getty
Stephen Curry made his return to the court Monday night with all of the theatrics imaginable.
Entering Monday, the Golden State Warriors held a 2-1 series lead over a Portland Trail Blazers team that had been proving more difficult than expected.
Curry had missed the Warriors’ previous four games after spraining his MCL against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Before the knee injury, he missed two games with an ankle injury in the first round. In total, Curry had played just 39 minutes in the playoffs.
Before Monday night’s game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Curry would be activated if all went well with his warm-up. When it did, Kerr announced that Curry would coming off the bench with a minutes target of about 25 minutes.
Then the cards stacked up for what will go down as one of the greatest playoff performances in NBA history.
Seeing his first action in two weeks, Curry was rusty to start. His shots were falling short and he looked somewhat timid on his right leg, though he was generally moving well. The Warriors fell down by double digits early in the game, and as Curry’s shots fell short it seemed as if the Warriors would have to mount a comeback with only a partial Curry.
In the second quarter, however, Warriors guard Shaun Livingston, acting as a starter in Curry’s place, was ejected for arguing with a referee. That left Curry to run the show, almost ensuring he would eclipse that 25-minute target.
In a second half for the ages, with both teams trading incredible shots and showing off admirable execution on offense, Curry came to life. After shooting 5-for-13 in the first half, Curry began to find his legs. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on 4-for-7 shooting, knocking down a clutch 3-pointer, just his second of the game, with two minutes remaining.
But even when Curry isn’t making his shots, he’s still the engine of the Warriors’ offense. He commands so much attention from defenses that he is able to set up his teammates. He did so again in clutch moments in the fourth quarter.
When Curry missed the attempted winner – a running bank shot from an awkward angle – the game went to overtime, treating fans to five more minutes of what had been spellbinding action.
Except Curry didn’t let it happen. In a superhuman performance, Curry – who had already played 31 minutes and had 23 points on 10-for-25 shooting – went off, single-handedly downing the Blazers.
In five minutes, Curry poured in 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting and carried the Warriors across the finish line, 132-125, to a 3-1 series lead.
Curry finished with 40 points on 16-for-32 shooting to go with nine rebounds and eight assists, nearly a triple double, in 37 minutes of action. After not playing for two weeks, Curry set an NBA playoff record for points in a single overtime with his 17.
It was the type of performance that makes legends. As seen in the last shot above, it left Blazers owner and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen stunned, turning him into an internet meme.
On TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” Hall of Fame analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were speechless.
“I’ve been here 16 years, and one night I saw LeBron James score 29 out of 30 points” to win a game, “and I said, ‘That’s the most impressive thing I’ve seen in person,” Barkley said before coming to a loss of words. “That [Curry’s performance] was– that– that was ridi– – that was on the same – that was crazy. That was unbelievable.”
O’Neal added: “You know what’s crazy? For normal guys, when you come back from two or three weeks, it takes you a game or two to get it going. He started off slow and then he just kept going … It took him 2 1/2 quarters.”
Barkley continued: “This guy, man. This debate about the greatest shooter [in NBA history] – that’s pretty much in the bag.”
As opposed to meandering through a game, taking the night to find his legs, Curry simply kept getting better as the game went on. By the end of the night he was breaking NBA records in his first game back from what could have been a devastating knee injury.
After the game, Kerr quipped: “I just want to make an announcement: Steph will start Wednesday night, in case anyone was wondering.”