Stephen Curry will be returning to the Golden State Warriors lineup after missing more than a month of basketball. Despite his greatness, it might be best to temper expectations at first as he tries to find a rhythm in his return to playoff intensity.
Barring an unforeseen setback, Stephen Curry should be making his return in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Golden State Warriors won Game 1 in convincing fashion, but, their championship hopes still rely on Curry’s availability. He is what makes them elite.
Losing Curry, obviously, has impacted their offense, something that has carried over into the postseason. Despite a great Game 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans, the memories of their near-disaster fourth quarter in Game 5 of the playoffs’ opening round against the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs are fresh in everyone’s mind.
Everyone–from the fans to the players themselves–is excited for Curry’s return, as they should be. He’s a two-time MVP. He’s the greatest shooter the game has ever seen and one of basketball’s most potent offensive players ever. He’s a top two player in the Association and he’s not two.
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Still, it’s important to contextualize his return. Curry has played 25 minutes of basketball since March 9th. After spraining his ankle for the second time, the point guard was re-inserted into the lineup on March 23rd but then sprained his MCL in the three quarters and 29 points into their game against the Atlanta Hawks. He has not played since.
Curry’s injury is worse than the one he suffered in 2016, but he’s had more time to recover, so he should be closer to 100 percent than he was when he scored a record17 points in overtime against the Portland Trailblazers. Still, he’s going to need some time to get into a rhythm. So don’t expect Curry to be all the way back right away.
Being able to go through full practices is a good sign that his body is getting better and stronger, but practice reps will never be able to replicate game speed. That contrast becomes even greater when the player returns to playoff intensity. Curry will, likely, be far from peak.
Now, that’s not to say that he’s not going to be effective. Curry’s presence alone makes the Warriors’ offensive significantly better. He can miss an entire year of basketball and teams are still going to trap him high or overplay him coming off screens. That’s just how deadly he is.
Having him back means that Durant and Thompson should get better looks. Draymond Green should have more space to operate when Curry is getting double teamed 40 feet away from the rim. The team’s pace and energy should increase.
He’s going to have an immediate impact, but it might not show up in the box score. He might be a little rusty to start, but elite players–like him–have ways of making winning plays no matter the circumstances. He nearly willed the team to a championship in 2016 on one knee, reaching a high level of play time and time again despite having his ability to be consistent stripped away by the knee injury.
It’s also entirely possible that Curry’s brilliance negates what “normal” world-class athletes have to work through. What he did in 2016, with his limitations, is incredible, despite his ultimate failure. This time, he wasn’t rushed back and his knee is in a better place.
Curry could very well end up scoring 30 points tomorrow, especially when considering that the team announced that he won’t be on a minutes restriction (though it’s unknown if he’s starting or coming off the bench). He could break some record–maybe one of his own–and it wouldn’t be that surprising given how special he is.
Still, it’s probably best to temper expectations just a bit, which is harder than it sounds because Curry is absolutely magnificent and we expect that every time he steps onto the court. My guess is that there will be some rust and a learning curve for everyone as he is re-inserted into the lineup of a team that has already begun the second round of the postseason.
The Warriors will need Curry to be close to peak to win this championship, with a matchup against James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets looming in the background. With his track record, especially in the postseason, it would be safe to say that Curry will get there sooner than later. Still, it’s important to just take it one game at a time as he finds his legs again.
At the end of the day, however, the most important lesson that anyone could teach–something bigger than the game of basketball itself–is that STEPH BETTER.