SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Stephen Curry became the most accomplished player in NBA history to participate in a G League practice as he suited up for the Santa Cruz Warriors on Monday morning. The star Golden State Warriors guard went through the entire practice without any issues and appears to be on track for a return to an NBA floor soon as he continues his rehab from a broken left hand, potentially as early as Thursday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at Chase Center in San Francisco.
But as Curry finishes up the final stretch of a four-month rehab process, he left the group of G League Warriors with a memory that will last a while. As the team’s 5-on-5 scrimmage ended, Curry found himself in a familiar position. With his team trailing 49-48, the clock running down and three defenders crowding him, the former two-time NBA MVP rose up, releasing a high-arcing jumper that could have won the game. Everybody inside Kaiser Permanente Arena expected the same result.
“You expect him to make it, right,” Santa Cruz Warriors forward Roger Moute a Bidias said with a smile after practice. “It was crazy how high he shot it, too. I think [Isaiah] Reese asked him, ‘Did you mean to shoot it like that?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I did.’ You expect him to make that shot, but it’s a scrimmage, so …”
Curry, the man whose career has been defined by making big shots late in games, missed.
In a season full of setbacks and surprises, it was another reminder that the charmed life Curry and the Warriors have enjoyed over the past five years of Finals appearances and championships doesn’t always get a storybook ending.
“We actually ran a play that I think [Golden State coach] Steve Kerr drew up in the last Finals series against Toronto,” G League Warriors coach Kris Weems said. “Try to get him a look. And of course all the attention went to him. So we got a shot off, but maybe not the best shot we could have gotten.”
Given the circumstances, Curry’s miss at the buzzer was just a footnote to an otherwise productive day for both himself and a team full of players who enjoyed competing against the most talented player the G League has ever seen.
“We had Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, in the gym,” Moute a Bidias said. “So it was a great experience for us to have him come down and obviously help him get ready to come back on the court.”
Curry, 31, originally hoped to get back on the floor March 1, but that return was delayed because Kerr and the team’s medical staff wanted him to get some more scrimmage time. With the NBA Warriors in the midst of an injury-riddled stretch without much practice time, a G League practice in Santa Cruz became the best option. Curry drove himself down to the G League affiliate Monday, arriving about 9:15 a.m. PT at an arena that sits across the street from tire shop. Curious locals tried to catch a glimpse of Curry inside the small arena, but shades were pulled so onlookers couldn’t see into the gym.
As media members walked inside after practice, Curry, who participated in the scrimmage that consisted of three seven-minute periods, found himself in the middle of a team picture at center court as Santa Cruz Warriors players and staff members smiled around him. Curry didn’t speak to reporters, but his game did plenty of talking, despite the miss at the end. So, how did he look?
“Like Steph,” Santa Cruz guard Jeremy Pargo said. “Like Steph of old. Made some shots that was Steph of old. His game is going to be his game, and he’s going to be amazing at what he does no matter what. The confidence level speaks to that, and the shots he made today speaks to that.”
Moute a Bidias spent a few minutes with Curry after practice, discussing the finer points of getting his feet set before taking a shot. After the scrimmage, Curry spent well over an hour getting his regular shooting routine in under the watchful eye of Warriors staffers Seth Cooper, Jacob Rubin and Rick Celebrini, the director of sports medicine and performance, all of whom traveled to Santa Cruz to help with the workout.
Steph Curry getting some shots up after GLeague practice in Santa Cruz. pic.twitter.com/VxRSUyhdsg
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 2, 2020
“He brings a tremendous spirit, he’s so positive,” Weems said. “I knew he would bring that to Santa Cruz. When he walked in, he was dapping everybody up, shaking hands, smiling, but he did his prep to get his body right. All his warm-up stuff, and that’s important, too, that the guys, especially our younger guys, see the way his approach is, in terms of being a professional.”
The Golden State Warriors have gone out of their way not to put a specific date on Curry’s comeback from the Oct. 30 injury. They want him to get comfortable from a conditioning standpoint and understand that with a league-worst 13-48 record, there is no incentive to bring him back if he’s not ready. But all signs point to Curry’s imminent return. No more G League practices are scheduled.
“His wind looks really good,” Weems said. “You always worry about that when you haven’t had any game experience or game live action. But he’s been doing conditioning, clearly. The real thing is getting bumped around, the physicality of the game, setting screens, fighting over screens. Maybe jamming that wrist or that hand on a fall. You have to have those things to feel like you’re ready to go, and so hopefully we gave him that in that three quarters that we played. And so he’ll be able to bring that experience. … Whenever they deem him fit to be able to play, he’ll be ready to go.”
Whenever he does, Weems and the rest of his team will always have a nice reminder of the day one of the game’s best players came down to the G League to get his work in — just like every other player trying to find a way to make it to the NBA. Weems had to smile while discussing the fact that he lost a scrimmage with Curry on his team, but he never second-guessed who was taking the last shot.
“Why would I draw it up for anybody else?” Weems said. “I’m trying to keep my job.”