SAN FRANCISCO – Stephen Curry drove to the basket with fervor and knocked down a 3-pointer while falling to the ground getting fouled to convert a key four-point play, exhibiting all the signs he's his healthy former self at last.
And the raucous home crowd loved every minute of No. 30's galloping, grinning, body-shaking show.
Curry came off the bench for a second straight game following a month-long absence with a foot injury, scoring 34 points to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Denver Nuggets 126-106 on Monday night for a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series.
“The first half a little pep in my step and the body felt good, I was able to kind of get to some spots,” Curry said. “When you make certain shots it feels a little different, it feels a little bit more normal and more emotion kind of comes out, especially with that layoff, so it was a nice feeling.”
He was only on the floor 3 seconds shy of 23 minutes, and no player in the shot clock era had scored as many as 30 points in 23 or fewer minutes in a playoff game, according to Elias.
“It didn't surprise me because we've been watching this for a long time with Steph,” coach Steve Kerr said. “You never really are surprised when he has an outburst like that. It's great to see."
Nikola Jokic had 26 points and 11 rebounds before being ejected with 7 minutes left after a second technical and was held back from a referee, after his first technical came with 2:31 to go in the third.
“I’m not supposed to do that, and I’m not going to do that,” Jokic said. “I think I got fouled in the moment because I heard the slap. That’s why I just reacted."
The MVP candidate's emotions ran high all night. In the first quarter, Golden State guard Gary Payton II patted Jokic on the backside and the big man turned and came toward Payton when Curry stepped in and held the 7-footer back and Jordan Poole came in to help.
Draymond Green’s defense flustered Jokic all night.
“If you feel like you're getting under their skin you press up a little more," Green said. “If you don't feel like you're getting under their skin, you press up a little more.”
Poole started for Curry again and contributed 29 points — just missing a chance to become the first Warriors player ever to score 30 in his first two playoff games.
Klay Thompson added 21 points, while Curry shot 12 for 17 with five 3s as Denver again had no answer defensively for all of the Warriors' dangerous perimeter threats.
The series shifts to Denver for Game 3 on Thursday night.
Will Curry start? He said his goal for now is “to make my minutes impactful.”
“We'll see,” Kerr said.
The Warriors are rolling with the backing of their adoring fans, winning their seventh in a row overall following a five-game winning streak to close the regular season.
Golden State used runs of 16-0 and 23-4 late in the second quarter to erase a 43-31 deficit and take a 57-51 lead at the break. On one particularly dazzling sequence, Green bounced a pass to Poole who threw it behind his back to Thompson for a layup that made it 54-47.
Austin Rivers grabbed at his left hip and went down hard after getting hurt on a drive then Thompson hit a jumper on the other end in the 5-on-4 advantage before Rivers exited with 10:04 left in the second quarter. He returned with 46.7 seconds to go in the half.
The Nuggets went ahead 43-31 on Monte Morris’ layup at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter and the Warriors answered with 16 straight points. The Chase Center crowd went crazy on Poole's 3 with 3:38 remaining.
Curry entered for the first time at the 6:32 mark of the first to a roaring ovation and immediately hit a jumper. With 16 first-half points he became the 27th player in NBA history to score 3,000 career postseason points.
He showed a full range of moves including driving to the basket with a fervor and making a 3-pointer while falling to the ground.
Denver took a 7-0 lead 90 seconds into the game as Jokic made four quick free throws. But the teams combined to start 6 for 21 with three field goals apiece — and the Warriors were 1 for 7 on 3s.
FRUSTRATION BOILS OVER
During the Warriors' 44-point third quarter, Denver's DeMarcus Cousins and Will Barton exchanged words.
“That’s two games in a row where you’re in the game, then snap of the finger you’re out of the game, and it just seems like it happens that quickly. So I think it’s just frustration,” coach Michael Malone said.
Nuggets: Jokic shot 9 for 20 and has missed all eight of his 3-point tries in two games. ... Denver committed costly turnovers once more, 18 of them leading to 25 Warriors points — something Malone stressed couldn't happen.
Warriors: Curry, Poole and Thompson combined to go 31 for 52 from the floor with 13 3s. It was the fourth time three Warriors guards scored 20 or more points and first since 2013. ... While the Warriors held a 41-35 rebounding advantage in the series opener, Denver led 47-35 on Monday. ... Golden State is 17-4 in Game 2 of the playoffs dating to the 2015 title run when the franchise captured its first championship in 40 years. ... Andre Iguodala sat out with neck spasms.
Malone on the Nuggets needing to improve communication in Game 2: “It was definitely addressed during the game, yesterday, this morning. The good thing is when it is horrendous it usually can’t get any more horrendous so there’s only one way for it to go.”
More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports