SAN FRANCISCO -- Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry took the 14 steps from his team's locker room up to the tunnel that leads to the floor at Chase Center on Thursday night and couldn't wait to see what was in front of him.
He started running as soon as he got the chance and jumped up in anticipation as he made his long-awaited return to an NBA game after four long months of rehab on a broken left hand.
"Player coming out!" a Chase Center security official yelled.
Curry couldn't wait to get back to the game he loved, the game that had been taken away from him after he broke his hand on Oct. 30 when Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes fell on him underneath the basket. All the emotion of the past few months came out as Curry raced to the floor to see a crowd that has missed watching him just as much as he has missed playing the game.
"Ahhhh!" Curry exclaimed on his run up to the floor. Curry's head almost hit the low ceiling in the tunnel as he made his entrance inside the new building.
Curry showed flashes of his brilliance in 27 minutes Thursday night and finished with 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-12 from 3-point range, with 7 rebounds and 7 assists, but the Warriors lost 121-113 to the Toronto Raptors, who clinched a playoff berth with the victory.
"I thought he looked great, moved well," coach Steve Kerr said. "It was not the ideal set of circumstances for him -- we were taking him in and out of the lineup to keep his minutes down and to keep his stints shorter. He's not used to that. But he obviously gave us a huge lift, and he changes the whole game when he's out there.
"Our fans could see it, they could feel it. We're a different team, obviously, when he's on the court. So, great to have him back, and it'll be fun the next week or so to continue to build up his minutes and get him back into the groove."
For his part, Curry seemed pleased with his return and didn't have any issues using his left hand. He fell on the hand early in the game and bounced right back up -- an experience that helped him get over the mental hurdle of being back on the floor after the injury. The only thing that seemed to bother Curry was the fact that Kerr took him out after playing short bursts of minutes and he wasn't able to create the rhythm he would have liked.
The other big difference Curry noticed was how strange it was to be back on the floor without Draymond Green (knee) and Klay Thompson (ACL rehab), while learning how to play with so many new, young players.
"That actually hit me during two-line layups because I have a lot of routines that I rely on in terms of getting ready for the game," Curry said. "Draymond usually throws me a pass to the corner at a certain time; he wasn't out there. Nobody got hype for my little scoop shot, so really weird for sure. That's the nature of the season, we're trying to build something new based off the culture that we have and that championship identity. It's going to take some time, but it was fun just getting out there and playing with the guys where you're trying to build chemistry on the fly."
One of the guys Curry is trying to build chemistry with is new swingman Andrew Wiggins, who was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the NBA trade deadline last month. Like so many others in the organization, Wiggins beamed while discussing what it was like playing with Curry for the first time.
"He makes everyone great," Wiggins said. "He makes everyone play better. He finds open men. He's like the most unselfish superstar. That's a good way to put it. He attracts so much attention that he's going to find the open man, and he makes the right play, so it was fun."
Aside from Curry's exuberance ahead of Thursday's game, the most notable part of his return was the impact it had on everybody else around him. Warriors staffers smiled widely throughout the day in anticipation of the star getting back on the court.
Kerr told reporters before the game that Curry's impending return brought some excitement back to the team, saying, "It just feels like we've kind of emerged from the woods a little bit the last week or two, knowing Steph was going to return."
He reiterated that feeling of excitement after Thursday night's game.
"To me, it feels like it's on again," Kerr said. "We're now through the woods, as I said before the game. We can start looking ahead and using these games to prepare ourselves for trying to reach a higher level of play."
The Warriors weren't the only ones thrilled to see Curry back in action. LeBron James took to Twitter on Thursday night to express his excitement.
Happy to see @StephenCurry30 back out there again! Nothing like being in your sanctuary! The game missed you. 🙏🏾👑— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 6, 2020
Curry, 31, received a loud ovation before the game after being introduced for the first time. Fans screamed their approval and stood for longer than usual to welcome back the two-time MVP.
Curry racked up two assists early in the game, including a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Wiggins for an easy layup. Curry missed his first shot attempt with 8 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first quarter, a 3-pointer taken a couple of feet beyond the arc.
"I do think there will be a sense of energy and enthusiasm the rest of the season," Kerr said before the game. "Because to me, this is sort of the beginning of next season in a lot of ways; and I think we're all starting to get some clarity as far as what our team's gonna look like. And having Steph back is, obviously, a huge, huge part of that now. The next step will be getting Klay back, but that won't be till next season. But I think these last 20 games are really going to be a springboard into next year, so I think that energy will be high and remain high."
Overshadowed by Curry's return was the fact that Green missed his fourth consecutive game because of left knee soreness. Kerr said the veteran forward underwent an MRI and the exam showed no structural damage in the knee. Kerr is hopeful that Green will be back in the next few days.
As for center Kevon Looney, he missed his third straight game because of left hip soreness. Kerr acknowledged being worried about Looney's latest setback.
"That's a concern and we'll have an update [Friday]," Kerr said. "He had some momentum and he was playing really well for us. So this is a bump in the road, hopefully, but we'll have an update tomorrow when he has a chance to be evaluated by our doctors tonight."