SAN FRANCISCO: Golden State’s Stephen Curry made a triumphant return from a left foot sprain on Saturday as the Warriors, led by Jordan Poole’s 30 points, routed Denver 123-107 in an NBA playoff opener. All-Star guard Curry, sidelined since March 16 with the injury, had 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the floor (3-of-6 from 3-point range) with three rebounds, four assists and a steal over 22 minutes off the bench as the host Warriors took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
“Everything was smooth for the most part,” Curry said. “It was nice to get back out there, to feel the playoff vibe again. It was nice to just be out there with my guys. It was a step in the right direction.” Curry said he had no expectations about when he might start again. “I can hopefully provide a lot of energy off the bench,” Curry said. “We have to keep things simple, be decisive, have confidence in each other. JP is a part of that now.”
Poole hit 9-of-13 from the floor and 5-of-7 from 3-point range in his playoff debut. “It was good to get the first one under the belt,” said Poole. “Just taking what they gave me, being patient and trying to be as aggressive as possible.” Klay Thompson added 19 points and praised Poole, saying: “He’s incredible, a star in the making. He’s just going to keep getting better.”
Other NBA playoff openers Saturday saw the Utah Jazz outlast Dallas 99-93, Philadelphia defeat Toronto 131-111 and Minnesota upset Memphis 130-117. Curry started 0-for-5, got his first basket on a goaltending call off a drive to the hoop and played 12 minutes in the first half. “I like the way he approached the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He found his rhythm as the game went on. It was a really good first game back for him and will set the table for what’s to come.”
Having Curry back was a thrill for Thompson, who missed more than two full seasons with injuries before returning to Golden State in January. “He’s still Steph Curry and he still made huge shots for us,” Thompson said. “The threat of him being out there is the best. It makes us a championship team.” The Warriors closed the first half on an 18-4 run for a 58-47 edge and pulled away in the third quarter. “The key stretch was the end of the second quarter,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “We can’t beat ourselves and the Warriors in the same game.”
Serbian big man Nikola Jokic, last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player, led Denver with 25 points. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell scored 30 of his 32 points in the second half and the visiting Jazz beat the Mavericks, who were without injured All-Star guard Luka Doncic due to a left calf strain. “We have a lot of confidence,” Utah’s Royce O’Neale said. “We have the guys we need to make a long run. It’s about us staying locked in.”
Bojan Bogdanovic added 26 points while Rudy Gobert grabbed 17 rebounds. Dallas pulled within 92-91 before O’Neale made his only basket, a 3-pointer with 57 seconds remaining, and Mitchell added four free throws to secure the victory. “Our mental toughness was challenged and we responded,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We kept our aggression.” Mitchell began the game 0-for-6 and 1-for-9 from the floor but sparkled in the second half. “Just be in attack mode,” Mitchell said of his halftime change. “I came out a little too passive in the first half.” Jalen Brunson led Dallas with 24 points.
Sixers rip Raptors
Tyrese Maxey scored a playoff career-high 38 points and Tobias Harris added 26 to power the 76ers. “It’s a testimony to the work,” said Maxey. “The work you put in when nobody else is around, it shows when you perform before thousands.” Cameroonian center Joel Embiid, the NBA scoring champion, added 19 points and 15 rebounds while James Harden contributed 22 points and a game-high 14 assists.
Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 24 points. At Memphis, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards scored a game-high 36 points in his playoff debut and Karl-Anthony Towns added 29 points and 13 rebounds in a matchup of the NBA’s two top-scoring clubs. Malik Beasley added 23 points off the bench for the T-Wolves. Ja Morant led Memphis with 32 points. – AFP