Steve Kerr made a brilliant coaching decision Wednesday night. He started Steph Curry.
The Warriors coach had brought his two-time MVP off the bench for the first four games of the first-round Western Conference playoffs against Denver, favoring Curry’s recently injured foot. And it worked three times. But after a Game 4 loss in the Mile High City, Kerr decided shoot his biggest gun. Curry needs to watch his wobby wheel, but the playoffs are the playoffs. It was time to close this thing out, and give Golden State a few days of rest.
Guess what? Steph delivered. In a fourth quarter that made us all bite nails, the king delivered. A driving finger roll with a minute and a half left was the setup. A three-pointer from Gary Payton II was a killer. A final layup from Curry was the dagger, the touchstone of a 30-point night. Warriors win 102-98. Game, set, match.
It was a tremendous affair at Chase Center, and the Warriors’ spark plug Draymond Green felt it.
“The crowd was amazing,” he said. “We’ve already spoken about making this like Oracle. But this is a different place.”
It was an emotional night for all Warriors fans. The team had almost pulled it off in Denver on Sunday. But it felt better to finish things in San Francisco, where another sellout crowd got loud and brought back memories of Roaracle Arena, across the Bay.
Turns out, starting the Death Poole lineup, featuring Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole alongside Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, was the right call. Easy game, coach. Play your best hand. To be honest, both Klay and Jordan were off Wednesday, but Steph was there to make the difference. Three bullets? One’s gonna hit.
“It’s been three years since we’ve been in the playoffs,” said Kerr. “You kind of forget how hard close-out games are. … We’ve felt that playoff pressure for the first time in a few years. And our guys responded.”
This team is starting to taste like a championship vintage. Curry has found his legs. Thompson is Thompson. And Poole remains the revelation of the postseason, playing the role of Steph Jr. on the court. It’s been pretty remarkable to see this youngster find his oats on the game’s biggest stage. Welcome to the Poole party, son. Your elders enjoy the company. Payton’s 15 points Wednesday adds a whole other element. It was fun to see Oakland’s own, The Glove, cheer on his son from the stands.
Wednesday night’s contest was an absolute grind. Thompson was one of six from three. But the Warriors jumped out to a 30-25 lead early on, with Curry hitting two of five three-pointers, Poole chipping in one of his own and Thompson hitting four of four from the field, all from inside the arc. Aaron Gordon was the standout for the Nuggets early on. The son of San Jose started out hitting four straight from the field to keep Denver close.
In the second half, the two teams went toe to toe. Denver had a lead surpassing 10 points at a time, but Curry kept Golden State in the game with a flurry of threes. Former Warrior Demarcus Cousins punctuated a 10-3 run for Denver at the end of the third quarter with a crushing three-pointer. But would the Dubs lose to Boogie? Nope. Curry pushed them through.
But you can’t talk MVP without Nikola Jokic. The Denver big man went down with a fight, scoring 30 points and grabbing 19 boards in the loss. Green won’t miss the Joker. The man had an amazing series. Done himself proud.
On the Warriors side, you can never ignore the presence of Draymond Green, who played his usual all-around game, scoring 11 points and turning in a +12 plus/minus stat sheet on the night. Most importantly, he quarterbacked both offense and defense, as usual.
“Some guys are made for the playoffs and some not. I love this time of year,” said Green.
Now, Golden State moves on to the second round, where Minnesota or Memphis await. That series currently has the Grizzlies up three games to two, with Game 6 coming up Friday. Both teams pose a difficult matchup, but that’s the NBA playoffs. The betting money is on Memphis, whose Ja Morant has emerged as the kind of star player that could unseat the aging Warriors. He averaged over 27 points per game and nearly seven assists in a breakout season. He’s a dunking, posterizing nightmare that Golden State will struggle to contain.
If it’s the Timberwolves, the pesky Patrick Beverly awaits, setting the table for monster big man Karl-Anthony Townes, who pitched in just under 25 points per game this season.
Either opponent will have to deal with a resurgent Golden State squad that’s using a beautiful mix of veteran champions and youthful upstarts to put the league on notice. On plenty of rest.
But the Warriors are back. Don’t make vacation plans until after June.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter @alsaracevic.