It was the Christmas present Golden State Warriors fans had been eagerly awaiting— the return of Stephen Curry to the starting lineup.
After missing the previous 11 games after spraining his ankle (a stretch which saw the Warriors go 9-2), the Warriors guard was deemed well enough to play when the Memphis Grizzlies returned to Oracle on Saturday night. Curry did not disappoint in his return as he, coupled with solid performances by Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, led the Warriors to a 141-128 victory in the final game of 2017.
Curry dazzles the crowd in his return to the Warriors lineup
Curry looked sharp from the opening tip, scoring seven points including a single three-pointer. In the second quarter, the Warriors point guard really caught fire, scoring 14 points in the second to give him 21 points in the first half. Of those 14 points, nine came from long distance. Here was one, losing the Grizzlies defender and receiving the return pass from Zaza Pachulia (one of his six assists on the night).
You can not leave the greatest shooter of all time that wide open!!! pic.twitter.com/RfFrSV2X1V— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 31, 2017
Curry knocked down another three-pointer off of another Pachulia assist, this one a spectacular between-the-legs pass from the center to Curry in the corner.
There would be another spectacular three-pointer in the second quarter, this one coming off the dribble as he pulled up, drained the shot, and gave trademark Curry shimmy after.
Playing in his first game after missing the previous 11, Curry scored a game-high 38 points, including a season-high 10 made three-pointers (it was also Curry’s ninth career game making more than 10 three-pointers, which is a NBA record).
Curry’s 10th three-pointer of the night came on this play in the fourth quarter, when he made Marc Gasol look incredibly foolish.
Video of Stephen Curry putting Marc Gasol in a blender pic.twitter.com/gEsKFMtcyT— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) December 31, 2017
Just one night after playing stagnant offense against the Charlotte Hornets, the Warriors’ offense looked turbo-charged against the Grizzlies, a team that ranks in the top-10 in terms of opponent points per game. The Grizzlies’ opponents score an average of 101.6 points per game against them. The Warriors scored 141 points against them. Slightly less than two weeks ago, the Warriors struggled to score 97 points against the Grizzlies; on Saturday the Warriors hit that mark midway through the third quarter.
The Warriors played faster, made more cuts, attacked the basket, and came onto the court with a greater focus and intensity. That’s the difference in having Curry out there and playing. He not only puts in his own great performance, but he elevates the games of his teammates as well.
A surprisingly early exit for Draymond Green
While Curry’s night was a welcome sight to Warriors fans who had been missing him in the starting lineup, Warriors fans saw something that they didn’t want to see yet again but has become an all too familiar sight— Draymond Green getting ejected.
Green received his first technical early in the second quarter for some mild protesting of a foul call. The second came fairly shortly after and was just as suspect.
Draymond Green ejected, quick whistle pic.twitter.com/F1XoftP0TQ— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 31, 2017
The consensus among those watching the game was that Green, while perhaps doing enough to warrant one technical, did not do nearly enough to warrant an ejection.
Those were the two quietest Draymond Green technicals of the season, first one for light argument, second for a disgusted wave. Didn't even say a word to the refs as he walked to the locker room.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 31, 2017
The technicals were Green’s ninth and tenth of the season, inching him closer to his 16th, which would cause him to be automatically suspended for one game. It was also distressing because Green shot and made one of his best three-point attempts of this season in the first quarter.
Green gets the ball, jumps off of two feet, follows through on his shot and gets enough arc on it. Green’s shooting form has looked a bit off at times this season, owing in part to the shoulder issues with which he’s been struggling. I was hoping to see him take a few more three-pointers and start to get back in the habit of shooting like this, but unfortunately he did not get the chance to keep this going against the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies were able to put up points against the Warriors
Though the Grizzlies are still a team that wants to play defense and grind things to a halt on the court, their offense kept them in the game against the Warriors. The Grizzlies rank near the bottom of the NBA in terms of points per game, field goal percentage, and three-point field goal percentage. Without Mike Conley in the lineup, they are a team that’s bereft of offensive talent.
But the Grizzlies’ offense looked very good in the first half of Saturday night’s game. As a team, they shot 51% from the field and 60% from three-point range. Gasol scored 19 of his 27 points in the first half, the most of any Grizzlies player which helped them keep up with the Warriors as Curry continued to knock down big shots.
Another reason the Grizzlies were able to keep up with the Warriors for much of the first half was Kobi Simmons. Simmons scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half, including his first three-pointer of the season. Tyreke Evans also helped the Grizzlies by scoring 10 of his 22 points in the first half. Ultimately, the Grizzlies were not able to get enough beyond Gasol and Evans to keep up. Even though the Grizzlies reached their highest point total of the season, it was all in a losing effort.
Curry wasn’t the only Warriors player to impress on Saturday night
With his fellow Splash Brother back in the lineup, Thompson was locked in and put in a good performance to go along with Curry’s show-stopping return. Thompson scored 14 points in the first quarter, including four made three-pointers like this one.
Thompson’s scoring tailed off a bit as the game went on, and he would only score 7 more points the rest of the game to end it with 21 points. Thompson’s contributions did not end with his scoring, as he played tough defense on Evans all night and also contributed 5 assists.
Another player who made some nice contributions was Pachulia. In his third game back after missing the previous eight, Pachulia scored a season-high 17 points. Two of those points came on this sensational assist from Curry in the second quarter.
Unconfirmed reports: Steph has eyes in the back of his head pic.twitter.com/ddWlsHhgXG— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 31, 2017
Pachulia also played good defense against Gasol, one of the few more traditional big men in the league, while pulling down 8 rebounds.
With Green out of the game early in the second quarter, the Warriors needed to find someone to take over his power forward minutes. Once again, rookie Jordan Bell stepped up and filled in when Green was unable to play. Bell contributed good rim protection, with one of his four blocks coming on his former college teammate, Dillon Brooks.
Jordan Bell 1— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) December 31, 2017
Dillon Brooks 0 pic.twitter.com/5eCWGFP2oH
Bell also contributed to the Warriors’ offensive attack as well, scoring 11 points with most of them coming on the thunderous alley-oops for which he’s become so well known.
Jordan Bell alley oops pic.twitter.com/tKykgDn8K9— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 31, 2017
Though their defense wasn’t as sharp as it usually is (they allowed the Grizzlies, a team that averages around 98 points per game, to score 128), it was still a very good win for the Warriors to get. But, more importantly, it saw Curry return to the lineup and look like the two-time MVP and a player ready to get back to the work of winning another championship.
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