It took a little while for Steph Curry to look like Steph Curry again.
After all, it took him a little while to even get into Saturday’s game.
The Warriors superstar came off the bench for Game 1 of Golden State’s first-round series with the Denver Nuggets. After a month to the day he sprained his left foot and suffered a bone bruise, Curry sat out for the first six minutes of Saturday’s contest.
And early feedback showed it wasn’t worth the wait.
Of course, the Warriors superstar can be forgiven if after coming off the bench, it took him a few quarterbacks and a handful of shots to regain his excellence after a month and a few minutes on the sidelines.
But Curry finally found his game in Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round series with the Nuggets on Saturday, and that opens up a world of possibilities for Golden State to advance in the series and playoffs.
It could be argued that the Warriors didn’t need Curry last night. After all, the box score shows he was only on the court for 21 minutes and his best play came after the fight was well in hand.
But box score can’t tell you much in a contest like Saturday’s.
No, Curry — even in his rusty state — was a vital part of the Warriors’ winning effort.
He is Steph Curry, after all.
Her presence on the pitch was immense, as expected, even though she appeared later than expected.
Curry’s signature gravity kept the Nuggets honest on the defensive end. And with him, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins spacing the ground in critical moments of the game, Denver had no chance of defending passes from Draymond Green or shots from the For Four.
But it wasn’t just the new “death” range. (I promise someone will come up with a cooler name.)
“He’s still Stephen Curry and has always done huge hits for us,” Thompson said. “He’s still plus-17, and just his seriousness and the threat of him being there is the best.”
There will only be more space, more time, and more open looks for Curry’s teammates in Games 2 and beyond.
After all, Curry will be playing more, and he’s provided every reason to doubt he’ll go 0-for-his-first-five, with his first field goal of the game with 1:14 remaining in the second quarter.
“It was nice to be back there,” Curry said. “It was nice to feel a playoff vibe again. Obviously it’s different coming off the bench and trying to make the most of the minutes that are appropriate right now and I had to control the adrenaline for the first six minutes until I came out and everything goes well.
“Right now it’s literally about… taking that trust from game 1: how to double down on the next game, find your niche, put niche games, your go-tos, pet games around you want to form an identity, no matter which lineups will be the most powerful?”
The Nuggets will make adjustments. They’re too well trained not to counter the Warriors’ pace-and-space lineups.
But, put simply, they are not equipped to combat the Warriors’ new ‘death’ formation and the incisiveness they have shown at both ends of the court in their first minutes together on the court this season. .
Putting Nikola Jokic in the corner against Andrew Wiggins won’t change the paradigm. Wiggins is just one cut away from destroying Denver’s defense.
There are too many shots when the Warriors have Curry, Thompson, Poole and Wiggins on the floor together. There’s too much control when it’s Green or Andre Iguodala leading the point or clearing teammates with perimeter screens.
The Warriors have struggled with lineups with two non-shooters on the floor this season. Defenses could capture the real offensive threats.
No such problem existed on Saturday. There shouldn’t be such a problem in this series against the Nuggets.
A new problem emerged on Saturday, however. This is a top notch champagne problem.
What do the Warriors do with the starting lineup now?
Curry made no fuss about coming off the bench. A superstar who’s willing to do that only comes around once in a generation – Warriors coach Steve Kerr is right to say that Curry is ‘little Tim Duncan’. Never take this for granted.
But Poole seems to care to start. Such is the state of mind of an ultra-confident young player – bordering on impetuous.
Who goes to the bench if the Dubs both start? It’s not Green or Thompson. Kerr would bench Andrew Wiggins? It seems harsh. And all Kevon Looney has done is be a rock for the Warriors and Jokic’s team favorite defender.
Whichever direction the Warriors go – the likeliest option is Poole on the bench – it’s clear they’ve found a new level for this post-season.
And things will only get better as the team superstar regains his form.