Stephen Curry is back

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images   Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images   Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images /

The NBA playoffs are here. The games are tighter, the lights are brighter, and the narratives are getting thick. It can be a lot to keep up with but don’t worry we’re here to help. Throughout the NBA postseason, FanSided will be gathering together some of the most talented writers from our network for a daily recap of our favorite stories from the night before.

Welcome to the Rotation.

Stephen Curry is back

Ian Levy | @HickoryHigh | FanSided

It took Stephen Curry a little while to get his legs. And then it was all over.

On the same day it was announced he would be named NBA MVP for the second consecutive season, Curry made his return to the Golden State Warriors lineup, 15 days after spraining his MCL. He was supposed to be limited to 25 minutes but played 37 after Shaun Livingston was ejected late in the second quarter. Through three quarters, Curry had 13 points on 6-of-18 from the field, 0-of-10 on three-pointers. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he scored 27, shooting 10-of-14 from the field, including 5-of-6 on three-pointers.

This was one of those games where you just sit back and watch Curry channel something otherworldly. Words are inadequate for capturing experience of watching him slowly, deliberately, take a basketball game and bend it into an origami construction of his own imagination. All you can do is watch and hope against hope that he’ll let you watch a little longer.

In case you had forgotten who the best player in the NBA was, in case you had forgotten which team set a new record for wins in a season, in case you had forgotten who the overwhelming favorites were to win the title, Curry was here to remind you. He is the antidote for Damian Lillard, for a hot shooting opponent, for a career night from Al-Farouq Aminu. It took exactly three quarters for him to shake off the rust, to summon the lightning bolts, and don his cloak of invulnerability.

Curry is back and this season still belongs to him.

Stephen Curry is in here

Todd Whitehead | @crumpledjumper | Nylon Calculus

Stephen Curry has hit so many big shots for the Golden State Warriors during their historic run this season. According to Basketball Reference, during the regular season, in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter plus overtime, Curry was 23 of 44 (52.3 percent) on shots to tie the game or take the lead, including 16 of 29 from deep (55.2 percent!!). No other player in the league made more shots in these late game/close game scenarios. Curry’s clutch productivity is made even more impressive when you consider the Warriors propensity for blowout victories and Curry’s frequent fourth quarter rest. As a percentage of his team’s scoring, Curry accounted for a whopping 43 percent of all made field goals when the game was on the line this season.

During these playoffs, the Warriors have been forced to find ways to finish games without their injured superstar. It looked like Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers would require more of the same. In his first game back from a sprained knee injury, Curry was not quite himself; he started the game by shooting an uncharacteristic 0-for-9 from the three-point line, including one ugly air ball. But, Curry appeared to shake free some of that rust in the fourth quarter and he absolutely shined in overtime.  In fact, he probably played the best single overtime period in NBA history. He shot 6-for-7 from the field (one shot was blocked), 3-for-3 from deep, and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. He scored 17 of his team’s 21 points in the five minutes of extra time. Below is a graphical recap of his incredible OT performance.

Golden State Warriors’ Scoring in Overtime Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4

GSW POR Game 4 OT Scoring
GSW POR Game 4 OT Scoring /

Altogether in Game 4, Curry tallied five more late-game field goals that either tied or took the lead (one shot in the fourth quarter, plus four more in OT). After his made three-pointer with 1:51 left in OT gave the Warriors a five-point lead and put the game out of reach for good, Curry shouted, “I’m in here. I’m back”. Well, welcome back, Mr. Curry. We missed you.

Will you remember me?

Josh Hill | @jdavhill | FanSided

One of the stops on Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour this past season brought him to Miami, where he matched up against Dwyane Wade for the last time. We had a lot of that on Kobe’s retirement tour — the ‘last time’ spin on the narrative. It was in those moments that we began to realize how much Kobe meant to us and now that he’s gone we are trying to cope with how badly we’re missing him.

That’s going to happen to the man he matched up against that night: Dwyane Wade. He may have a few years left in the tank, but it feels like we’re unfortunately not going to truly appreciate him until it’s too late to let him know.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Wade is having himself a helluva playoff series against the Toronto Raptors and it’s reminding us how much fun it was watching him in the postseasons of years past. After plunging his goblet into the Fountain of Youth this postseason, it’s not too late to indulge ourselves in the full Playoff Wade experience as inexplicably intended.

So much was made about Steph Curry’s MCL or potential injuries to young players across the playoff landscape. Yet, here we are watching perhaps the most broken, worn down and vulnerable player of the lot rise above and carry his team without even a shadow of a doubt in our mind regarding his health.

This is the same D-Wade that we’re sometimes afraid to breathe on the wrong way out of fear that it’ll in some way throw his ankle joints out of whack or cause his knees to spit bone-on-bone dust onto the court.

Game 4 against Toronto was a reminder of how much fun Playoff Wade can be, and it was a sobering reminder that we’ll miss him when he’s gone. We forget that the last time we saw Wade in the postseason was 2014, before LeBron returned home and Steph exploded.

Some people will say we saw ‘Vintage Wade’ in Game 4 — but he’s never really changed. What we saw was the same Wade that has always been there; we’ve just tossed him into the bin while newer, flashier toys occupied our attention. But like the superstar he’s always been, Wade has found a way to violently capture our attention, and it’s well deserved.

If there was a play that needed to be made, Wade was right there in the middle of it either making it happen or facilitating.

He went off in the first half, was there for rebounds late in the game and was drawing double teams in the absence of Hassan Whiteside that opened up the paint for Miami. He brought out the best in the players on the floor with him, from Luol Deng to Joe Johnson and even Udonis Haslem. He even managed to toss the ball so perfectly and softly to the rim that it literally just sat there like it was on a cloud — suspended as if to act like an omen for us to pay as close attention to this series and to Wade as humanly possible.

It’s no coincidence that Wade was the last person to score in Game 4 — emphatically and cathartically jamming the dagger into the chest of the Raptors. That was the basketball Gods sending us a message that we’d best heed.

Up to this point, we’ve all sort of been pulling for the Heat to win this series so we can get a Wade vs. LeBron showdown for all of the Eastern Conference marbles. But we should be rooting for Heat not to get that Civil War style showdown, rather so we can get as much Playoff Wade as we can before it’s gone forever.

Toronto Raptors’ stars have lost control of series

Philip Rossman-Reich | @omagicdaily | Orlando Magic Daily, Hardwood Paroxysm

Dwyane Wade came across the screen and rolled to the lane under complete control, laying the ball delicately onto the glass with that impossible spin he puts on the ball and adding the exclamation point to a fourth-quarter comeback and an eventual overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors in a must-have Game 4 at American Airlines Arena.

Spin and bounce are funny though.

As sublime as Wade was throughout the evening, nothing was seemingly as beautiful or mesmerizing as the ball hitting off the front rim and bouncing on the back iron, settling there and sitting there.

It was not a wedgie, it was not anything many had seen before. Not in a pressure-packed situation. Not with so much on the line. It was a reprieve. The kind of odd bounce or play a team can take to the bank and take advantage of. That is what the good teams can do.

The Raptors won the jump ball. The game could still be theirs. Control was still in their grasp. That 3-1 series lead and the silence to all doubters too.

Yet, time and time again, the Raptors made the wrong play. Or made no play at all. The fight of bigs like Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo and even Lucas Nogueira to keep possessions alive, the Raptors could not convert. The playoffs are the time for the best players to step up and sometimes carry their teams over the finish line. And time and again, the Raptors’ two best players have not had that control over the opposing defenses and over their own team.

Kyle Lowry fouled out late in the fourth quarter. He did not play a minute of overtime and finished with 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting, missing all six of his three-pointers.

DeMar DeRozan was on the bench when Lowry fouled out late in the fourth quarter. He was on the bench for a long time with the broadcasters asking when he might check back in. But he hardly made much of an impact. DeRozan finished with nine points on 4-for-17 shooting.

The Raptors were doing everything they could to keep themselves in the game, giving their stars every opportunity to carry them to the finish line. Instead on the final play of regulation, it was Cory Joseph taking a rushed shot off an iso after a timeout of all things.

The Raptors had lost control. Not with Wade taking over and turning back the clock in regulation and overtime and Joe Johnson carrying the load to put the Raptors in a hole in overtime.

All playoffs long, the Raptors have sought more from their star players. Lowry and DeRozan have not performed to their regular season standards or their talent level. They have had their moments, but it has been far from consistent this postseason. And that has ultimately held the Raptors back, making everyone forget the stellar regular season this group had.

The playoffs are the time for the stars to take full control. Defenses are taking every pet play away. A star is supposed to be able to overcome all that and truly shine.

Toronto’s stars have not taken control. And now the team finds itself sitting 2-2 and unsure what Game 5 will bring.