Portland, Ore. – Stephen Curry nailed a 3-pointer in overtime and gestured to the crowd, exclaiming over and over: "I'm back! I'm back!"
Golden State's superstar certainly was.
Curry returned from a sprained right knee to score an NBA-record 17 points in overtime, finishing with 40 as the Warriors rallied to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 132-125 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
"I love this game, I love playing and love competing. And really, really missed being out there with my teammates," Curry said. "To help our team get a win tonight and in that fashion, that was a good feeling in that moment to be back on the floor and playing."
Playing for the first time since he was injured in Game 4 of the first-round series against Houston, Curry was rusty for three quarters and sensational down the stretch after the Warriors trailed by as much as 16 points.
Originally expected to play about 25 minutes off the bench, Curry picked up a heavier workload in the second half after Shaun Livingston, who had been starting in his absence, was ejected in the second quarter after arguing a call and picking up two technical fouls.
Curry's victorious return came hours after a person with knowledge of the award told The Associated Press that Curry would repeat as NBA MVP, with the announcement coming as early as Tuesday.
The Warriors can win the series Wednesday night at home in Game 5.
Damian Lillard finished with 36 points and 10 assists for Portland.
Curry's fast-break layup gave the defending NBA champions a 120-118 lead with 2:21 left in the extra period. He followed with a 3-pointer, strutting and pumping his fist in celebration.
"You knew he'd catch his rhythm eventually," Klay Thompson said. "He's probably the best player in the world, the best shooter of all-time. He was getting good looks. We'll take those all day."
Harrison Barnes' layup extended the lead to 125-118 and Portland couldn't catch up. Thompson finished with 23 for the Warriors.
Curry finally made his first 3 of the game to give the Warriors a 103-100 lead with 4:35 left in regulation, but Portland was ahead in the final minute before Barnes tied it at 111-all with a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left. Both Lillard and Curry missed to force the OT.
Curry led the Warriors to an NBA-record 73 wins in the regular season, a year after leading the team to its first NBA championship in 40 years. He averaged just over 30 points per game this season.
"Remarkable," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "I mean, he looked fresh. He had his rhythm. He made tough shots, he made nice passes, he fought through screens. Obviously 17 points in overtime. It was a hell of a performance."
The Trail Blazers narrowed the series to 2-1 on Saturday night when Lillard scored 40 points in a 120-108 Portland victory while Golden State was still without its star guard. The Blazers became the only team to defeat the Warriors twice this season.
Curry came off the bench with 5:56 left in the first quarter and Portland up 16-2. His only points in the quarter came off a pair of jumpers before he went back to the bench.
Livingston felt he was fouled just before halftime and was thrown out after arguing with referee Scott Foster. The 12-year veteran guard was averaging 12.1 points and 5.5 assists in the playoffs. He had started six of the eight playoff games while Curry nursed his knee injury.
Portland led 67-57 at the half, scoring a franchise playoff-record 41 points in the second quarter alone. Lillard led all scorers with 17 points.
Curry said his legs were sore after the game.
"To be expected," he said. "I pride myself in the work I put in in the offseason to get through the 82-game schedule and be fresh for the playoffs. I was off my feet for a week and some change. You obviously lose a little bit but deep down when I got the work the last four days and broke a sweat and put the time in, that helped me get through these 38 minutes."