OAKLAND (California) • At the end of the Golden State Warriors' practice on Saturday afternoon, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant traded jump shots from the three-point arc.
Curry rose and fired, the end of a sequence so smooth it appeared choreographed. He held his hand in the air, nodded and strutted away.
Last year at this time, he could muster no such exuberance. He battled the effects of a right knee injury, suffered during the first round of the play-offs and felt through the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals. He had won consecutive Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, but his performance in the Finals fell far below his standard.
In Game One of these Finals, Curry seized a chance to change that. Fully healthy, he poured in 28 points, drilled six three-pointers and dished 10 assists. He also prevented the Cavaliers from making him an easy defensive mark, as they had done last year while coming back from a 1-3 series deficit.
"It's totally different," he said.
The Warriors dismantled Cleveland in Game One in large part because Curry was the fullest version of himself. Midway through the second quarter, the guard found himself at the top of the arc, with Kevin Love switched on to him. The crowd murmured in recognition of a scene they had watched before.
In the final minute of Game Seven last year, trailing by two, the Warriors created a one-on-one matchup for Curry against Love. Love's lunging contest contributed to a crucial bricked three-pointer.
On Thursday, Curry offered a vivid example of the difference between the Finals. He Euro-stepped to his right, crossed over between the legs to his left, zoomed past Love, and scooped the ball off the backboard and in with his left hand.
"That's really what it comes down to - he's healthy," Warriors reserve guard Shaun Livingston said. "He's not hampered this year by injuries like he was in the play-offs last year. You can see the difference."
Last year, Curry shot 40.3 per cent in the Finals, and averaged 22.6 points while recording more than four turnovers and fewer than four assists per game.
While he played an exceptional offensive game on Thursday, his defensive energy may have been the clearest sign of his health.
The Cavaliers last year exploited him as a defensive liability, repeatedly putting him in pick-and-rolls by having the man he guarded set a screen. They tried the same tactic in Game One, but Curry was able to hold his own.
"I don't think we attacked it (pick-and-rolls) as well as we did last year, which is something we may have to make some adjustments with," Cavaliers assistant coach Larry Drew said.
As the Warriors have rampaged to a 13-0 record in the post-season, Curry has managed to go somewhat overlooked. He became the NBA's biggest sensation for two seasons, only to shrink in profile this season as Kevin Durant moved to the Bay Area. He may continue to use these Finals as a reminder.
At full strength, he remains one of the best players in the world, and he makes the Warriors nearly impossible to stop.
Game 2: Singtel TV Ch110, 8am