It’s been fun, Warriors. But get Steph Curry back in the starting lineup

Death Poole Lineup falls short of sweep in Game 4 against Denver

You figured it wasn’t going to be this easy. Nikola Jokic wasn’t going to let his Nuggets get swept away like so much lint in the first round of the playoffs.

Instead, the NBA’s reigning MVP yoked Denver upon his massive shoulders Sunday and carried the team to victory. Now, the series returns to San Francisco where the Warriors have some big decisions to make.

The 126-121 loss in Game 4 was the first loss for Golden State’s new Death Poole Lineup, featuring Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry on the court together. And it looked like the trio might pull it off again, mounting a furious comeback in the fourth quarter after trailing for much of the game. But after Draymond Green fouled out, Jokic stepped into the void and controlled the final sequences.

“We had our chances,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “Steph made some brilliant plays. … We started too late in terms of trying to execute and win a road playing game.”

Denver’s big man finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists. And back to San Francisco we go, with Golden State up three games to one. (Game 5 will be at Chase on Wednesday, 7 p.m. tip.)

That’s where Kerr will have to make a key call. For the first four games of this series, Curry has come off the bench due to a lingering foot injury that kept him out of action for the end of the regular season. It worked, so Kerr stuck with it.

Curry has been electric in his time on the court, as usual, catching fire late in Game 4 and finishing with 33, despite only hitting on 10 of 23 from the floor. He also played 37 minutes.

So, if Curry is going to play big minutes, maybe it’s time to start the two-time MVP? Yes. Yes it is.

Kerr acknowledged as much in a post-game interview. But didn’t commit. That’s not how he rolls. Asked if Curry would start, Kerr said they’d consider it.

“Yeah, for sure. We have coaches meetings and practices,” said Kerr. “That’s all we do… think about the next game. We’ll think about that.”

It’s the next logical step for Kerr, who has played mix-and-match lineups all season, masterfully mixing veteran talent with young, untested players and getting great results. It seems like most every lever the future Hall of Fame coach pulled, the Warriors responded. That goes for Game 4, too, which Golden State almost stole. Kerr made a brilliant decision to play a zone defensive scheme late in the fourth quarter, with Green out. It almost worked.

Now, it feels like it’s time for Kerr to put Curry back into his rightful place at the front of the parade. It was painful to listen to the TV announcers joking in the first half that if Curry keeps playing well, he might earn a start. Everyone’s found this situation humorous, and to Steph’s credit, he hasn’t complained at all.

But the experiment should be put back on the shelf.

Why? Curry looked tentative in Game 4. He started the game riding an exercise bike. After he came in, he missed his first few shots and seemed discombobulated. He only shot 3 for 10 from three-point territory, and missed four three throws on the night. That just doesn’t happen. You can blame it on the altitude in Denver. Or the 12:30 start, which is just weird for NBA players. They’re not used to it.

Most of all, Curry is not used to starting the game on the bench.

The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic, explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.

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