At this point last year, Stephen Curry was well on his way to a top-five MVP finish and his fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. He was one of the most relevant, popular players in the league, and he had kept that status for quite some time.
On Thursday night against the Raptors, in his first game since breaking his hand Oct. 30, Curry scribbled a mere footnote to an NBA season that long ago moved on without him and last-place Golden State. His late-season production — beginning with his return vs. Toronto — will have essentially no effect on championship odds.
The remainder of this campaign for the Warriors is clearly about building a foundation for the next. It’s about Curry searching for chemistry with Andrew Wiggins, complementary players searching for a long-term role in San Francisco and an organization searching for its footing after a full-on wipeout. It will not often result in 48 cohesive minutes. It will at many points be weird to watch.
At least on Thursday, though, it was a lot of fun. The NBA clearly missed its sharpest shooter. Curry’s presence breathes extra life into the sport even if he is still finding his form and his team is far from contention. His 23-point performance was at times as captivating as ever.
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With Chase Center (and the basketball world) eager to see him back in top gear, Curry went scoreless in the first quarter, and he didn’t hit his first 3 until 7:40 remained in the second. Then the highlights started to come. He hit a ridiculous heave with the shot clock expiring late in the second period and drained a 3 through contact in the third quarter. He finished a clutch acrobatic layup in the fourth.
That the Warriors lost 121-113 was of little significance. The result was never the point of Thursday night.
For the rest of the season, Curry will not be close to the top storyline. The Bucks going for 70 wins and the two LA heavyweights vying for Western Conference supremacy will be among the many bigger draws.
But each time he steps on floor, each time he hits a string of long-range shots, people will pay attention. His game makes it hard to look away.