For Seth Curry, this was the return game.
This was the 76ers shooting guard’s first contest since Jan. 6. In all, he was sidelined seven games. The last six due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
His time away sure didn’t hinder his shooting in the Sixers’ 122-110 victory over the Boston Celtics Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Curry made 6 of 10 shots, including going 3-for-5 on three-pointers, to finish with 15 points in 27 minutes, 2 seconds. Joel Embiid had another solid performance, finishing with 38 points and 15 rebounds. Tobias Harris added 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting, while Ben Simmons added 15 points and 11 assists for the Sixers (11-5).
Jaylen Brown had 42 points for the Celtics (8-6), who were without All-Star Jayson Tatum due to the health and safety protocols.
But this night was about Curry’s return
“I was surprised,” coach Doc Rivers said of Curry showing no rust. “I never could shoot. So I guess when you can shoot, you can shoot. I guess you can take 10 days off or two weeks off and still make shots. In the beginning of the game, I was like ‘This guy has missed games?’
“I was surprised how well he shot the ball and how good his rhythm was.”
The 30-year-old made his first three shot attempts. The first was a 19-foot jumper with 9 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first quarter. Then he hit a three-pointer 42 seconds later before making another three with 6:29 remaining in the quarter.
Curry, who is on a minutes restriction, was subbed out 57 seconds later. His eight first-quarter points led the Sixers.
“I love playing with him,” Ben Simmons said. “He makes the game easy. He sees the floor well. He doesn’t force shots ... When he’s on fire, he’s on fire.”
He returned with 7:12 left in the half, and missed his lone shot of the second quarter. Curry added seven points in the third quarter on 3-for-4 shooting in 7:21 of action. Embiid had 11 points and Harris added eight as the Sixers outscored Boston, 42-28, in the third quarter to take a 91-80 lead into the fourth.
The Celtics pulled within three points with 4:44 left. But Simmons scored five straight points to make it a 108-100 game. Then he assisted on Harris’ three-pointer before scoring a layup to put the Sixers up 113-100.
Simmons scored 11 of his points on 5-for-7 shooting, had three assists and one steal in the fourth quarter. He sparked the Sixers in a decisive 14-2 run to break the game open in the fourth quarter.
“We just had to put them away,” Simmons said. “Offensively, there were hitting a lot of shots. Kemba, Marcus and Jaylen making plays. So we had to get stops and offensively, we had to make plays and take care of the ball.
“So I caught them falling asleep a few times. I tried to make plays for my teammates.”
On this night, Curry was eager to get back on the court. No longer positive, he felt good and was trying to get his conditioning and rhythm back.
However, Curry was surprised to learn on Jan. 7 that he had the virus.
He wasn’t sick, and had been socially distancing. Yet, on that day, he was rushed from the Sixers bench and immediately into isolation after being notified that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I felt fine,” the 30-year-old shooting guard said following Friday’s shootaround. “I really wasn’t going anywhere and doing much outside of the team setting. So I was surprised that I actually tested positive.”
Curry was sidelined during that road game against the Brooklyn Nets because of a sore left ankle. Once the Sixers learned of his test results, he immediately went to an isolation room at the Barclays Center. Curry left the arena separate from his teammates.
To return to work, a player must isolate at least 10 days after the first positive test or onset of symptoms, or test negative twice at least 24 hours apart via PCR testing, according to the health and safety protocols.
Wednesday’s home victory over the Celtics marked the 13th day since Curry’s positive result. He joined his teammates on the bench that game, but did not play because of what the Sixers called “post health and safety protocols reconditioning.”
“Once I went into isolation, I was isolated from my family for most of the time that I was away from the team,” said Curry, whose wife, Callie, is Sixers coach Doc Rivers’ daughter. The couple has a daughter.
He watched a lot of basketball and football games while isolated in this basement. As for team interaction, Curry was on all the group text chains. Other than that, he watched the games from afar.
His conditioning consisted of light workouts on his own equipment.
“I would stay in somewhat decent shape,” he said, “but other than that, just waiting until I could get back out on the court and get back with the team.”
Because of contact tracing after Curry’s positive test, the Sixers played their next game with just seven players. They followed that up with nine and 10 available players in their next two contests, respectively. They were 1-2 in those three contests and are 3-3 in the six games Curry has missed because of the protocols. The Sixers are 3-4 without him when you include the Jan. 7 setback.
“Being away from the team obviously, seeing them struggle to play with seven, eight guys at times, knowing that I can’t help them, that was tough,” Curry said. “Being in isolation was tough. Not being able to work out and stay in shape.
“We were like two, three weeks into the season or however long and starting to finally get in shape and work my way into game rhythm and used to playing again and then get knocked right back out. So just a tough situation, but ready to get back out there.”
On Friday, the Sixers were missing Vincent Poirier (health and safety protocols) and Mike Scott (right knee swelling). This marked Poirier’s seventh straight game away from the team. Rivers said he’s still working to pass protocol.
Scott has missed the past three games.