Stephen Curry was delighted to be back in a big game for the Golden State Warriors, even if Wednesday's play-in defeat to the LeBron James-inspired Los Angeles Lakers was a painful one.
Curry led the game in scoring with 37 points, but an early Warriors advantage – 13 points by halftime – was wiped out by the opening stages of the fourth quarter.
It left Curry in a shootout with James which the reigning NBA Finals MVP won with a sublime 30-foot three-pointer over the Golden State point guard as the shot clock expired.
The Warriors could not respond, as Curry rued a third quarter in which his team had eight turnovers "that changed the dynamic of the game", as the Lakers also visited the foul line eight times – making all eight shots.
Victory takes LA through as the seventh seed in the West to a first-round series against the Phoenix Suns, while Golden State must now prepare for a one-off game against the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed.
"We'll be ready," Curry said. "Right now, it sucks. We played pretty well tonight.
"We've missed this type of environment, it was a lot of fun, high intensity, high, competitive level. I'm proud of everyone who stepped on the floor tonight, how they played.
"They made a run in the third quarter, we turned the ball over and it changed the game, but we still gave ourselves a chance to win.
"That's all we've worried about for the last 48 hours. Walking in the locker room, guys were upset, angry, frustrated we didn't get the job done.
"But we'll be ready for Friday, treating it like a regular season where you have to move on very quickly to a different team that we just beat, knowing they're going to come in with the same desperation we're going to have. It's the biggest game of the year."
A place in Playoffs comes down to Friday pic.twitter.com/p2P1lO0fSO— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 20, 2021
A play-in debut was Curry's 113th postseason appearance but his first since the 2019 NBA Finals.
"It was awesome," he said. "I don't know how many fans were here, but the prep leading into the game, the film study, the walkthroughs, our practice, the level of focus and intensity, it was amazing.
"I was telling Jordan Bell on the bench in the middle of the third quarter: 'I miss this.'
"It's been almost two years since the Finals that we were here in a game that had those type of consequences. It's what you live for, it's what you work so hard for.
"It brings out the best in you in terms of your competitiveness and energy and all that. I love it, so we have to run it back Friday and hopefully all next week."
This was the first time Curry had played the Lakers in such a game, with LA failing to make a Finals series between their title wins in 2010 and 2020 as the Warriors played in five straight.
"It'd be nice if we could make it back here round two or whatever it shapes out to be," Curry said.
James is a familiar foe, however, with his Cleveland Cavaliers the opponent for Golden State in four of those years, winning in 2016.
His brilliant make – his second of the night from three-point land – came as no surprise to Curry.
"It was a great shot, a broken play, I snuck in thinking he was out of play," he said. "They found him, he got his balance just in time and knocked the shot down.
"That was a tough one because you don't really expect it to go in. You expect us to get the rebound, come down in transition and have a possession to take the lead.
"But everything changes when it goes in. All-time great players make great shots, that's what happens. It's no different tonight, but that's a tough one."
But Curry appeared to compare the shot to a three from James' former Cavs team-mate Kyrie Irving, who sunk the decisive effort in Game 7 five years ago.
"This one I was a little further away, so I don't feel too bad about it," Curry said.
The Warriors can ill afford to mull over James' heroics any longer, though, as they face a Grizzlies team they beat as recently as Sunday to reach the seven-eight game.
That victory concluded a 15-5 run to finish the regular season, so Curry, who called for Golden State to "just have fun with it" and "come out swinging", is confident they can recover swiftly.
"We've had to do it the last 20 games, so it's no different," he said.
"It is a win or go home scenario, but we've had high confidence, had a string of wins and then had a tough loss and had to bounce back. We've been there."