The loudest cheer Tuesday night at Oracle had nothing to do with the actual Warriors 121-116 victory over the Pelicans to take a 2-0 series lead.
It came long before that, when conquering hero Stephen Curry finally returned to the court.
It was tough to tell who was more anxious for Curry to get his first minutes Tuesday — the fans or Curry himself. While the arena filled with restless cheers, every eye in Oracle darted back and forth from the live action to the Warriors bench to see when Curry would make his move to the scorer’s table.
Curry refused to even sit down on the bench. He stood up, longingly looking at the court, drawing in all the energy inside Oracle until Kerr finally called him in, seven minutes and 40 seconds into the game. And then he unleashed all that pent up energy, like a spirit bomb from Goku.
— NBA (@NBA) May 2, 2018
Curry said it was a long and tough wait to get back on the floor:
“It was an eternity it felt like for sure. You know, when the lights come back on, starting lineup, usually in that “go” kind of mind frame, and then had to pace myself and be patient with it. Seemed like it took forever but it was a good feeling to get back out on the floor and just let loose and have fun.”
If there was any doubt this could be a replay of 2016 — when Curry rushed back from a knee injury — they were erased in seconds. Curry pumped out 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting and opened up the floor for everyone to flourish, just like before.
Draymond Green said that the reaction to Curry was something he’ll remember:
“Pretty loud. Just him walking on the floor. You know, it was kind of electric in there and for him to hit that three that fast, it brought a lot of life to the building and a lot of light, spirit. Pretty fitting for sure.”
Even after Curry looked overpowering in the first half, Kerr went back to Young to start the third. Young repaid that trust by going 1-for-4, with numerous blown assignments on defense. He was minus-11 in his 11 minutes of action. Just for comparison sake, Curry was plus-26 in 27 minutes.
New Orleans employed the same pick-and-roll defensive strategy as they did against Damian Lillard and the Blazers, blitzing the ball handler. Only difference being that Curry doesn’t act like it’s the first time he’s ever seen a double team in his life, and punishes it.
The high pick-and-roll with either Curry or Kevin Durant as the ball handler and Green as the roller was unstoppable. Green got three straight buckets to end the first half all as the roll man, an and-1 layup, and two uncontested dunks — along with three straight guttural screams in the faces of three different Pelican defenders.
Green said it was a point of his to bring some passion to the team in those moments:
“I just had to bring some force. We were playing soft that first quarter. The second quarter, we needed to bring some intensity to the game, and you know, that’s my job. So just had to bring some force and some competitive spirit to the game, and once we did that, things took off for us. Didn’t really show up in the lead but it showed up in our play which eventually propelled us to this victory.”
Green followed up his triple-double from Game 1 with almost another one, 20 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists and an infinite amount of taunts.
And while Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry didn’t think he got under the skin of any of his players it sure looked like it on the court.
Green screamed right in the face of Nikola Mirotic who went chest to chest with him like he thought he was Bobby Portis. Then he got into a Greco-Roman wrestling match with Anthony Davis and both got technicals, before he got into another argument with Rajon Rondo just after the halftime buzzer.
Kerr was a fan of everything Green did and has done this playoffs:
“I do like to see it as long as there’s no technical involved… Draymond has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs. He’s been saving himself for the playoffs. It’s a long regular season, especially after three straight trips to the Finals, and you can tell the difference in the intensity from a lot of our guys, but Draymond in particular.”
All those altercations seemed to get Green going. He’s shooting 60 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep in the two games so far. And as good as he’s shot, he’s playing even better defense.
Durant stepped up his defense as well, being Draymond-esque with two steals and three blocks Tuesday.
He also took over down the stretch, scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. Durant had a rough night shooting early but with a tremendous fourth managed to turn his dud of a night into anything but.
Even though his shot hasn’t been as true so far in the second round, Durant said he felt good late in the game:
“I was rushing in the first half, first three quarters, rushing my shots. I’m more of a set-up-shot type of guy, you know, just figure stuff out. See the floor and then operate. I was rushing a little bit too much, and then I missed a few trying to find it so quickly. Shoot a quick three or not be disciplined in my fundamentals on my shot.”
Once Durant slowed it down, he killed the Pelicans with post iso after post iso and they had no answer for it. The one time they tried to counter it and brought over help, and the Warriors ran a simple off ball screen for Curry for an easy 3 to put the game out of reach.
Those type of easy sets are just unfair.
Klay Thompson was one of the few Warriors to have a poor game with Curry back. He shot just 4-of-20 and was forcing a lot of looks early. He also had to chase around Jrue Holiday who rebounded from a tough first game and went 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
And the Pelicans actually outscored the Warriors in points in the paint (60-38), fastbreak points (39-26) and second chance points (19-14). The Warriors did win the bench battle 44-13, although that was mostly due to that No. 30 guy coming off the bench.
Sixth man Curry may be just a one game thing, though his presence on the court certainly is not. to borrow a phrase from the point guard himself the last time he returned to the playoffs after an injury: he’s here, here’s back.
Ad now that he is, the playoffs — at least for the Warriors — begin now.
The Warriors take their 2-0 lead to New Orleans where they will try to put the Pelicans in an insurmountable 3-0 deficit Friday.
With the win the Warriors now have won 14 consecutive home playoff games, a franchise best streak. They are just one away from tying the NBA record, which is 15 set by Chicago from 1990-91.