SAN FRANCISCO — The best gift that Stephen Curry received on his 34th birthday wasn’t a diamond-studded piece of jewelry, state-of-the-art electronic equipment, or designer clothes. It was something he’d been patiently waiting for nearly three years to receive.
In Monday night’s 126-112 victory over the Washington Wizards, the Golden State Warriors‘ core of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson played in an NBA game together for the first time in 1,005 days.
“To play with those guys again, it’s extremely special,” said Green, who was active for the first time since Jan. 5 due to back and calf injuries. “When it’s not all three of us out there, there’s still a void there. It’s still empty. At least that’s what I know I felt for the last two and a half years.”
Green wasted no time making his impact felt. He was on the court for just 11 seconds before he fed Curry for a wing 3-pointer off of their famed split-action. Green said that Curry had called the play as soon as he entered the game.
Both players smiled and nodded their heads as they jogged back on defense. It wasn’t the first time Green and Curry had connected for a triple. It certainly won’t be the last.
“The chessboard changes with Draymond out there with Steph. Everything looks and feels a little bit different, and it’s tougher to navigate defensively for our opponent,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “And I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet. Draymond changes everything for us.”
Green’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Warriors, as they extended their win streak to four games while looking to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. The Golden State fans witnessed the way the team struggled for long stretches without Green, so they were more than gracious when he took the floor for the first time on Monday night after a 31-game absence.
Curry was gracious as well, going off for 47 points — the most he’s scored since he dropped 50 in early November — on 16-of-25 shooting, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range. He was pulling up from deep. He was swishing. He was shimmying. And a lot of it was thanks to Green, who found his longtime partner early and often.
“I miss it a lot. When I’m not out there and I’m watching, I see things that can be done that can help him out,” Green said of playing alongside Curry. “He’s the greatest shooter we’ve ever seen, but you still have to screen, and you still have to find him in good spots and make sure he gets shots and easy looks, as opposed to tough looks all the time.”
Green finished with six points, seven rebounds, six assists and was a game-high plus-24 in 20 minutes. A near flawless return, which was followed by his trademark confidence.
“Whether we’re the No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed, we’re going to win a championship,” Green told NBC Sports Bay Area after the game. “Don’t really matter. I called it months ago.”
There were indeed no visible ill-effects during Green’s 20 minutes on Monday, as he looked fresh, energetic and spry. The passing, which he said is “like riding a bike,” was phenomenal, and his ability to read defenses and direct traffic was on point. Watch here as he begins ushering Thompson toward the basket before threading the needle with a bounce pass for a transition layup.
But more than any skill that Green brings on either end, it’s the energy, swagger and confidence he emanates that makes this Warriors team click.
“It’s a clinic in terms of how you impact the game, even if you’re not the one getting the shots,” Curry said of Green after the game. “You can see how contagious the energy is.”
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With Monday’s win, the Warriors improved to 29-6 when Green plays this season, so his influence is clear. He’s the anchor of what was the league’s top defense at the time that he went down with the injury, and one that Golden State hopes can get back to that level come playoff time. Mix that in with a fully loaded offense with a jelling backcourt trio of Curry, Thompson and Jordan Poole, and Green’s championship guarantee suddenly doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
“I’m too much of a competitor to sit up here and doubt our team, or give another team the nod over us,” Thompson said after Monday’s game. “No chance.”