SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Stephen Curry’s pregame warmup had a little added flair with so many more people watching again. He loved seeing all the familiar ushers as he drove up to the arena three hours early. He thanked the fans before tipoff for being patient and persistent through a pandemic.
Curry scored 32 points, Draymond Green added 19 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors welcomed back fans for the first time since the pandemic began by beating the Denver Nuggets 118-97 on Friday night.
“Just a little bit different of a buzz inside and outside the arena,” Curry said. “I know you got to take it slow and obviously keep everybody safe but ramp up how many people can get in the building and slowly but surely get back to a full, packed house where that energy is second to none. Us on the floor, we live off of that. You try to bring it when it’s an empty arena, you do your best but it makes such a difference with fans.”
Nikola Jokic scored 19 points for Denver in a matchup of MVP candidates with Curry, who received a rare technical with 33.7 seconds left in the third when he wanted a foul call. Michael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 26 points, hitting seven 3-pointers.
Denver forward Will Barton went down 59 seconds into the game with a strained right hamstring and didn’t return. He hit the floor awkwardly on the baseline beneath the Nuggets basket.
“Our guys regrouped,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Will went down. He went down early and then we had to find other guys to step in and play. But I think all of you guys are fishing for we lost this game because of Will’s injury. Don’t make that excuse for us. Will Barton went down, he’s hurt and we feel for him. But we all get paid on the first and 15th, do your job. We didn’t do our job tonight - I didn’t, the players didn’t, and it’s unacceptable.”
Fans chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” for Curry, who shot 11 for 18 with four 3s and also grabbed eight rebounds in his 12th 30-point performance over the past 13 games and 29th of the season.
“I’m not surprised. I think it’s a no-brainer,” Mychal Mulder said.
Jordan Poole knocked down a corner 3-pointer to beat the buzzer ending the third as Golden State got another big boost from its bench to win a third straight home game. Poole finished with 15 points and Kelly Oubre Jr. 23 in his new reserve role.
“It’s a new role for Kelly but you can see how he’s embraced it, how he’s handled it,” coach Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors began a stretch with nine of their final 13 games at home - where they hadn’t played with fans in the building for 409 days. Attendance was 1,935, with the team having hoped for about 2,000 people.
Fans were greeted with a special video board message - welcome home - limited number of player family members and guests had been the only ones in attendance.
The depleted Warriors welcomed back Juan Toscano-Anderson from the concussion protocol after he took a dangerous fall and cut his head at Boston last week. He entered at the 6:08 mark of the first quarter to loud cheers and contributed nine points and eight rebounds.
“Having fans is always fun, especially after playing in empty gyms,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I appreciate all the fans. Shoutout to all the essential workers who have made this possible.”
Golden State shot 53.6% and had 39 assists.
“You have to find a way to get stops and we were just unwilling to do that tonight,” said a disgusted Malone, whose Denver team shot 38.6%.
CURRY THE ENTERTAINER
Curry clearly loved having fans to entertain again, going through a dazzling warmup in which he kicked basketballs high toward the enormous video scoreboard and had fun - waving to a cheering group above the tunnel once done with his pregame work.
The two-time MVP took a moment before tipoff to thank the fans for their patience during this “unprecedented situation.”
“There was such a great energy in the building tonight and a reminder of what we’ve missed,” Kerr said. “Only I guess a couple thousand but it felt like a lot more. Just such a welcome sight.”
Anthony Calvo, 27, of San Ramon, was honored as the first fan back at Chase Center. New Warriors COO Brandon Schneider greeted him at the door about 4:50 p.m. after Calvo arrived to take his COVID test at 10:30 a.m.
An employee of the City of Redwood City who helps secure school supplies for teens in need, he planned to connect after the game with wife Kerissa for their planned Big Sur weekend getaway.
He received a No. 1 First Fan Back uniform and signed gear from the team.
Nuggets: Barton was injured on Golden State’s home floor after Jamal Murray tore the ACL in his left knee late in the game here against the Warriors on April 12 and needed surgery. … Denver had won its previous two on the road.
Warriors: F Damion Lee and G Kent Bazemore are both in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. … The Warriors didn’t practice Thursday or hold a shootaround Friday and Kerr expects limited practices down the stretch to keep his team fresh. “The players need rest more than they need work at this point,” he said.
Nuggets: Host Houston on Saturday in a road-home back-to-back looking to sweep the three matchups this season with the Rockets.
Warriors: Host Sacramento on Sunday having lost four of five to the Kings.
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