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Golden State Warriors: Big three fall silent as Stephen Curry returns to starting lineup in Game 3 of Western Conference Semifinals

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Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry returned to the starting lineup on Friday, but scored just 19 points in the Warriors’ loss. (Stan Olszewski/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)

During Steve Kerr’s brilliant reign as head coach for the Golden State Warriors, he’s never shied away from making bold and unexpected moves.

Kerr started Nick Young — a wing on the fringes of the playoff rotation — in the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals, even as two-time MVP Stephen Curry was slated to return from injury in Game 2. The Warriors won both.

Then in Game 3 on Friday night at the Smoothie King Center, with the Warriors poised to push the New Orleans Pelicans into a 3-0 hole, Kerr summoned JaVale McGee for the starting five — the same McGee who logged just six minutes in the series opener and drew a DNP-coach’s decision in Game 2.

The tinkering blew up in Kerr’s face as the Warriors dropped Game 3, 119-100. McGee’s involvement was not pretty, nor was the Warriors’ shooting.

Golden State opened the night 1-for-8 from the field. Even Curry, back in his customary starting role after returning Tuesday from a sprained MCL, didn’t escape. The only unanimous MVP in league history didn’t hit his first 3-pointer until the 3:40 mark in the second quarter, and closed the evening 6-for-19 from the field, finishing with 19 points.

Amid a second-quarter charge, it appeared as though Klay Thompson would carry the night. Thompson, who has never been one to dwell on his numbers, followed up his 4-for-20 Game 2 with a scoreless first quarter, but then authored a 20-point second, leading the Warriors to within six at the half, down 62-56.

It was a more than promising scoreline considering the Warriors’ penchant for third-quarter blitzes, and the fact that the Pelicans had knocked down 10 3-pointers — the franchise’s postseason high for any half.

Instead, New Orleans ripped off the third-quarter barrage, opening on a 10-2 run after Kerr once again opted for a starting five with McGee at center. That spiraled into a 21-7 burst as the game descended into a lopsided mess.

Anthony Davis was the undisputed star, dunking all over the Warriors on his way to posting game highs in points (33) and rebounds (18).

Former Warrior reserve Ian Clark was the most efficient participant in the Pelicans’ beatdown, connecting on 7-of-11 shots from the field and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc en route to a 18-point performance in 22 minutes off the bench.

Even as Kerr emptied his bench — including giving Zaza Pachulia his first run since regular season finale on April 10 — the club’s eight backups totaled just 20 points.

Ultimately, it was the inefficiency of the big three — not the fiddling of Kerr or the incompetence of the subs —  that sank the Warriors.

Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant combined to shoot 39 percent (23-for-59) from the field and 29 percent (7-for-24) from distance.

After missing a triple double by a rebound in Game 2 at Oracle Arena, Draymond Green came within an assist of that milestone again, tallying 11 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.

The most important stat was the one Green didn’t accrue. The All-Star avoided a technical in the fourth quarter after Rajon Rondo, who has engaged with Green throughout the series, tried to bait him into a tiff with just under five minutes on the clock. Rondo earned a technical for his involvement. Green did not.

Green and the Warriors will resume the series with Game 4 on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in New Orleans.

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