OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Long before tipoff, Stephen Curry swished his routine tunnel shot on the second try. Once the game began, the two-time MVP stood along the bench anxiously waiting for his turn, shaking his legs and clapping his hands with nervous energy and anticipation.
Then — mouthpiece dangling, of course — Curry finally entered at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter to a roaring ovation from the Oracle Arena crowd and immediately got to work. He knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing 11 seconds later and was off and running in Golden State’s 121-116 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“It was an eternity it felt like, for sure,” Curry said. “When the lights come back on after the starting lineups you’re usually in the go kind of mind frame. I had to kind of pace myself and be patient with it. 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.”
Curry came off the bench to score 28 points in a triumphant return from a knee injury and nearly six weeks off, and the Warriors held off Anthony Davis and the pesky Pelicans to go ahead 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals.
All is right with the Warriors again now that No. 30 is back on the floor — even as a backup.
“It brought a lot of life to the building, a lot of life to our team’s spirit. Pretty fitting for sure,” Draymond Green said of Curry’s immediate 3.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points with a huge 3-pointer with 3:10 to play, to go with seven assists and six rebounds in Golden State’s franchise-record 14th consecutive postseason victory at Oracle Arena. Green contributed 20 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds while battling Davis on both ends all night.
Davis finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Pelicans, who also got 22 points and 12 assists from Rajon Rondo.
“It was tough,” Davis said. “We were in it the whole game.”
Andre Iguodala converted a snazzy three-point play with 6:41 left when he flipped the ball up and it came back down and through the net as he was fouled by Rondo, then Golden State pulled away.
The best-of-seven series resumes with Game 3 on Friday at New Orleans.
Curry shot 8 for 15 with five 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds in 27 minutes. He let it fly for a 30-foot 3 in the closing minute of the third.
“He’s going to score,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Warriors were focused on keeping their edge after a blowout Game 1 win.
Just the energy Curry brings helped that cause.
The whole place came alive when he made his first appearance on the floor.
“That was a special moment when Steph checked into the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
Curry had been sidelined since spraining his left knee March 23, the same day he came back from a six-game absence with a right ankle injury.
He already had a history of brilliant returns from injuries.
In late December against Memphis, Curry came back after being sidelined 11 games with a sprained right ankle to score 38 points with 10 3-pointers.
Curry returned for Game 4 of the Warriors’ five-game Western Conference semifinals against Portland two years ago and made 16 of 32 shots with five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in overtime on the way to 40 in a 132-125 victory. He grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists.
The game had its testy moments.
Curry made a bounce pass in transition to Iguodala late in the third and Solomon Hill was hit with a flagrant 1 for grabbing Iguodala’s neck area as he shot. That came 14 seconds after a double-technical against Davis and Green after they got tangled and rolled around and over each other.
“I live for playoff basketball. It’s the most fun time of the year for me,” Green said.
Klay Thompson never found his groove and went 4 for 20, 2 of 11 on 3s, and scored 10 points. Iguodala scored 15.
Green drove coast to coast for a three-point play 2:08 before halftime, then Thompson banked in a 3 at the halftime buzzer for a 58-55 Warriors edge at intermission.
Even a balanced Pelicans attack — they took 105 shots — with all five starters scoring in double figures wasn’t enough to stop the explosive defending champions.
Pelicans: Nikola Mirotic fouled out with 2:43 left after scoring 18 points. … The Pelicans scored 38 points in the paint the first two quarters. … New Orleans went 13 for 37 from deep, 4 of 20 in the first half.
Warriors: Curry came off the bench for just the second time in 76 career playoff games. … Nick Young started a second straight game. … Golden State has won 26 of the last 28 meetings overall vs. the Pelicans. … Home run king Barry Bonds sat courtside and congratulated Curry afterward.
Green had games of 19, 18 and 15 rebounds the previous three games and a triple-double in Game 1 — then was one board shy of another.
“He’s been saving himself for the playoffs,” Kerr said.
“It was a lot more fun when I was over there,” Gentry joked of preparing for the Warriors, referring to his time as Golden State’s top assistant during the franchise’s 2014-15 championship season.