The line between good and bad, between promise and depression, between meaning and meandering, is two inches of scarred skin on Stephen Curry’s left hand.
The marks from the surgery that has kept one of the NBA’s biggest stars from all but five games this season aren’t dramatically discolored or swollen, but they’re absolutely there — a constant reminder of what the Warriors once were, what they are now and what they soon hope to be.
Yes, Curry is back, returning Thursday for the first time since breaking that hand Oct. 30. And now, after a season full of losing, can the Warriors finally begin to heal, too?
“I think there will be a sense of energy and enthusiasm the rest of the season,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “To me, this is sort of the beginning of next season in a lot of ways.”
Curry scored 23 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists in 28 minutes in a 121-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors, any lingering effects of the hand injury and subsequent surgery hidden by the adrenaline and excitement of a return months in the making.
The past was cruelly and suddenly ripped from the Warriors this season, a process that got underway last season when it became clear Kevin Durant probably would leave. The Warriors’ chances for a third straight title disappeared in Game 5 of the Finals when Durant’s Achilles curled up the back of his leg like a map in front of a classroom chalkboard.
That meant the future would be hard. Klay Thompson tearing his ACL one game later as the Raptors and Kawhi Leonard clinched a championship ensured that it would immediately be closer to impossible.
At least, though, there would be Curry — a three-point-slinging, highlight-creating holdover — to usher in the Warriors’ first season back in San Francisco with his signature showmanship. While the Warriors wouldn’t be contenders for a championship, a Curry-led team returning to the playoffs was more of a probability than a possibility.
But four games into the season, the Warriors were about to get blown out for the third time before suffering an even worse fate — Curry’s hand getting crushed underneath Phoenix center Aron Baynes.
Since then, the team has fallen into its worst season in 20 years.
There’d be Curry and Thompson on the bench, trying their best to inject enthusiasm into games being played by overwhelmed rookies and out-talented journeymen. But the losses piled up.
Draymond Green, the heartbeat of the Warriors’ dynasty, couldn’t come close to making the same impact on games surrounded by lesser talent. D’Angelo Russell, whom the team acquired for Durant in the summer, wasn’t in the team’s long-term plans and was flipped to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and a future first-round pick.
But over the last few weeks, there has been an optimism bubbling within the organization as Curry’s return neared. Kerr said it was like seeing the light at the end of a tunnel.
Thursday, it shone like a spotlight — the Chase Center crowd erupting just from the sight of Curry on the scoreboard during the national anthem.
If there were questions about feel — Curry discussed the nerve damage in the hand that still has him feeling some tingling and numbness — he answered them early with a GPS-guided behind-the-back pass through traffic with his left to Wiggins.
In the second, he scored his first points on a circus bank shot, made a three and had the crowd going nuts with his second triple — a 30-footer that he unholstered in a blink to beat the shot clock.
And the players who have been given greater opportunities in his absence — like Damion Lee, Marquese Chriss and rookie Eric Paschall — looked like a part of the future. So does Wiggins, the former No. 1 pick.
Still, that’s not Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
“We’re never going to be the team that we were the last five years and I knew that last summer. How could we possibly be the same team?” Kerr said. “We feel like we can be pretty good again. But what we saw in the past, it’ll be different.”
But some things might remain pretty close to the same.
With Curry standing at midcourt in the fourth, the score tied, he called on the crowd to make noise. As fans got to their feet, they began to chant “Warriors” — a sound that echoed across the Bay in Oracle Arena during the Warriors’ best days.
And in the final minute as he carved through the Toronto defense to try to feed a comeback that ended up a few buckets short, the crowd serenaded him a chorus of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” — an award he hasn’t won since 2016.
“Regardless of how this season is going, you wouldn’t have known walking into this building tonight,” Curry said. “That was fun.”
Like that two-inch scar on his hand, Curry will always be a reminder of the past glory, and like he did Thursday, he’ll represent the hope of a return to it.