Curry Leaves Jaws on the Floor in Return, Jolts Warriors to Life

OAKLAND -- Returning to the Warriors lineup for the first time in 26 days, Stephen Curry took the floor Friday night and performed seven levels beyond anyone's wildest, dreamiest fantasy.

He danced and shimmied, hopped and hooped, threw the Memphis Grizzlies for a loop.

Curry delivered, one day early, everything any Warriors fan could ask of a New Year's Eve celebration involving their favorite team.

It wasn't just Curry's 38 points that powered the Warriors to a 141-128 victory that rocked Oracle Arena louder than it has since the first quarter of opening night. No, this was vintage Curry, stealing the spirit of an opponent while inspiring his teammates and thrilling fans.

"You can feel it in the building," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Everything's different. Tempo. Energy. The crowd is going nuts. Steph is special."

This was Curry's best game of the season -- among the best of his career -- and it came at a time when the Warriors needed some electricity to an offense that sorely missed his presence. He took 17 shots and made 13. He took 13 3-pointers and made 10. He took two free throws and made both.

"That was phenomenal," Kevin Durant marveled.

"I just was happy to be back out there with my guys," Curry said. "When you sit and watch for 11 games, you just wonder what it's going to be like to get back out there. 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 and see how my wind was. Surprisingly -- I know I shot it well -- but my body felt way better than I expected."

Curry's rhythm was evident from the start. He made his first two shots, a driving layup and a pull-up trey. It was in the second quarter, though, that it became apparent Curry was in the kind of zone that seems irrational for someone who had missed the last 11 games.

He scored 14 points in six second-quarter minutes, drilling 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and a pair of free throws. The crowd was into euphoric. His teammates were spellbound. Heck, even the Grizzlies seemed to feed off Curry's scorching of the nets.

"What can you say?" Kerr said. "A guy goes 10-for-13 after not playing in an NBA game for a month. The other team went 15-for-21 (from deep); even they were hot just because Steph was in the building.

"Steph makes everybody shoot better. It's crazy. That was remarkable. To do what he did in 25 minutes, to come out the way he did, it looked like he didn't skip a beat."

Curry, to be precise, played 25 minutes and 36 seconds. With 14 points in each the second and third quarters, he was at 35 after 23 minutes. He's the only player this season to have 35 points in fewer than 25 minutes entering the fourth quarter.

He's the first Warrior in franchise history to play so few minutes in a game and score 38 points.

And, remember, Curry was coming off a prolonged period without game activity.

The crowning achievement and most indelible moment came on Curry's final shot of the night. With 7-foot-1 Memphis center Marc Gasol, a very good defender, switched onto him beyond the arc, Curry basically vaporized the big man.

He faked right, crossed over to his left, feinted as if headed toward the free throw line, leaving Gasol spinning and reeling off balance. Then, in the cruelest of moves, with Gasol now in full and helpless surrender, Curry stepped back and drilled a trey.

"Seems like he does that to a lot of bigs who try to guard him," Durant said of a move reminiscent of the memorable demolition of Utah center Rudy Gobert in the playoffs last May. "It's just spectacular. That's when you get a guy in an iso situation and a lot of people think Steph could just shoot threes. But his handle is tight, he can always trade off of it and he made a huge move. Incredible shot."

This was what the Warriors, even as they won nine of 11 in Curry's absence, were missing. Pizazz. Sizzle. Fireworks in human form.

"It was fun to watch," Curry said of his time on the sideline.

"But what we've been accustomed to since I've been here is playing that uptempo style. When that ball starts hopping, good things happen and everybody feels involved. It's just a fun way to play. With the fans tonight at Oracle, you could sense that."

Curry is back. And, in his first showing, left jaws on the floor. Nobody saw it coming, but no one who witnessed it will forget it.

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