Warriors survive Stephen Curry blunder to tie series with Kings
SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was trapped with 40 seconds to go in Game 3 of the series against the Sacramento Kings. He had nowhere to move and no one to pass to.
He saw the trap and realized there were no real outlets, so instead of turning the ball over, he called a timeout.
The only problem: The Warriors had no more timeouts.
“I didn’t realize when we lost the challenge that we didn’t have any timeouts left,” Curry said. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he failed to inform his players they didn’t have any more timeouts.
“[Coach] took the blame for it, but I ain’t going to lie: I thought it was the smartest play in the world,” Curry said. “I looked at the bench, and everybody was shaking their head. It was an unfortunate situation.”
That play ended up giving the Kings four points — a made technical foul and a subsequent De’Aaron Fox 3-pointer to bring the Kings within one.
“There’s no time to be angry or frustrated,” Kerr said. “You just have to keep going, and our guys did that. We made some incredible stops down the stretch.”
Fox’s bucket ended up being the last points of the game, with the Warriors holding on to win 126-125 and tie the Western Conference first-round series at 2-2. But the Warriors could have made it more comfortable for themselves.
On the next play, with 12 seconds to go — 11 on the shot clock — Curry missed a rushed 16-foot pull-up jump shot.
“It’s always a balance of playing the clock and trying to find the best shots. Obviously, if I make the floater … you like that position to have one more stop,” Curry said. “I live with that decision.”
It wasn’t a “bad” shot for Curry. He finished the night with 32 points on 11-of-22 shooting, including five 3-pointers. He and Klay Thompson (23 points) were the main reasons Golden State stayed within striking distance of the Kings through the first half, before going on a run in the third quarter.
Curry’s timely shots were also the reason the Warriors overcame Sacramento’s ferocious comeback in the fourth quarter, after Golden State had built up a 10-point lead by the end of the third.
“It might not look like it, but I’m always looking for my shot,” Curry said. “There’s always going to be a double-team or a trap or a lot of attention. So me not shooting doesn’t mean I’m being passive. It just means you’re reading the defense to make the right play.”
After the Kings called a timeout following Curry’s late miss, the Warriors had one goal: keep the ball out of the inaugural NBA Clutch Player of the Year’s hands. Heading into Sunday, Fox led the league in clutch time points per game at 5.0 and had a league-best 15 points in clutch time in the playoffs.
The Warriors threw a late double-team at Fox, with Curry coming over to help Draymond Green defend. Fox kicked the ball to Harrison Barnes on the wing, but just as the Warriors had hoped, he missed as the buzzer sounded.
“We know Fox can make a shot,” Green said. “What I’m not doing is giving him an iso with anyone and just watching him work. … Got to make someone else beat you. If he hit it, great shot. He didn’t.”
Fox finished with 38 points on 14-of-31 shooting, becoming the first Kings player to have multiple 35-point games in a playoff series since Oscar Robertson in 1966.
After Fox scored 21 in the first half, Warriors assistant coaches Dejan Milojevic and Chris DeMarco suggested they switch Green onto Fox.
“Fox is a great player,” Green said. “He’s incredible. He continues to get better, and any time you draw the assignment to go guard the other team’s best player, you appreciate the opportunity.”
“I always knew, as this series has gone, that’s something that we had in our back pocket,” he continued. “If I’m being honest, I was very happy that we pulled out that card.”
Green held Fox to 2-of-7 shooting as the primary defender and the Kings overall to 5-of-15 from the field as the primary defender in the second half.
Putting Green on Fox in the second half was an adjustment that brought Green into the starting five after he came off the bench at the beginning of the contest.
While Green was suspended for Game 3, it forced the Warriors to play with more guards and shooters, which gave them far more floor spacing.
This wasn’t the first moment the Warriors realized they needed better spacing. It’s an observation they made following Game 2 before the league decided to suspend Green, sources told ESPN.
But after seeing how successful it was in Game 3, the Warriors knew they had to make a major adjustment and bring Green off the bench to split up his and Kevon Looney‘s minutes.
Green made the same observation. After watching Game 3 from his home, Green got into his car and drove straight to Chase Center to discuss it with Kerr.
When Kerr asked Green how he would feel coming off of the bench, Green had a simple answer: “Who f—ing cares? Who cares how I feel?”
“The right thing to do would be to start the game the exact way we did Game 3,” Green said. Sunday’s outing was the first time in the Kerr era that Green came off the bench and the first time since 2014 in a playoff game. It was Green’s 15th career playoff game not starting.
The Warriors aren’t strangers to making major lineup changes in the playoffs — and requiring their star players to make major sacrifices. In October 2014, Kerr decided to insert Green into the starting lineup for David Lee. In the playoffs that season, Andre Iguodala became a starter in the NBA Finals for Andrew Bogut.
Last season, Curry came off the bench for the first four games in their series against the Denver Nuggets.
Andrew Wiggins came off the bench for the first game of this series against the Kings.
“A lot of guys, 11 years in, you start to feel a sense of entitlement,” Green said. “Like, that spot’s yours, and starting is yours. I never want to reach that point in my career where I feel entitled to something. Those guys don’t fare well in the end. I just wanted to do what I thought was best for this team.”
It’s unclear whether Green will come off of the bench again in Game 5, especially with Green playing crucial defense on Fox. But as the Warriors head back on the road — a place that’s been very unfriendly to Golden State this season — they want to lean into what works for them.
“I’m a firm believer in if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Green said.
“These games are really detailed adjustment,” Kerr said. “Every playoff game, if you find something that works, you’ve got to stay with it. If it’s not working, you try something different.”