Jordan Poole's rough Game 4 gives Steve Kerr opening to start Steph Curry

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JP's rough Game 4 gives Kerr opening to start Steph in Game 5 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Video from Game 4 provides support for the decision. The outcome is a gift of timing. The circumstances practically beg for Warriors coach Steve Kerr to do what he has spent about two weeks knowing he eventually would.

Return Stephen Curry to the starting lineup. On Wednesday. In Game 5. At Chase Center.

Even if it means sending Jordan Poole back into the Sixth Man role Curry filled in Game 4 on Sunday and the three previous games. The change seems logical in the wake of Game 4, a 126-121 loss in which JP got his first dose of the nasty side of the NBA playoffs.

After leading the Warriors in scoring through the first three games (28.7 points per) and playing spectacular ball, Poole wore the bullseye Sunday. Denver unloaded a larger portion of its defense upon JP, knocking him so far off his game it was unrecognizable.

Against a procession of shoulders and forearms and elbows, most of it delivered by 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward Aaron Gordon, Poole shot 3-of-10 from the field, including 1-of-5 from distance -- his lowest output since Feb. 27 against the Dallas Mavericks.

And his lowest output as a starter since last Dec. 13, when he scored eight points at Indiana.

“They were more physical with him, for sure,” Kerr said Sunday. “Gordon got into him. That’s to be expected at this point. Jordan has made a name for himself around the league. He’s played so well, teams are going to start throwing a lot of stuff at him, including physicality, and trying to get under his skin.”

Gordon is four inches taller and 42 pounds heavier than Poole, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 193 pounds. Other Nuggets joined in at various times, but Gordon was the lead enforcer in their “Unwelcome to the Postseason Committee.”

Though Poole adjusted his game on the fly, finding teammates for a game-high nine assists in his 39 minutes, this was his first encounter with this level of physical treatment in the NBA. Curry endures it on a semi-regular basis. Klay Thompson also is familiar with it.

“That’s natural,” Thompson said of JP’s Game 4 experience. “As much as we love Jordan, averaging 29-30 a game, it’s really, really hard. He’s still going to play with great efficiency. He’s still going to be a huge part of what we do. We all go through it. We all go through tough shooting nights, or just not feeling like ourselves. That’s just part of the playoffs and the microscope might get a little bigger.”

The difference is that, after more than a decade, and being under the microscope for a combined 241 postseason games, Curry and Thompson are accustomed to the physicality and have learned to make the adjustments required to cope.

They were, in Game 4, as on so many previous occasions, the leading scorers. Curry came off the bench to pour in 33 points in 37 minutes. Thompson totaled 32 points in 31 minutes. They combined for 45 points during Golden State’s second-half comeback.

They were in familiar territory, the heat of a closeout game, and their savvy was impossible to miss.

RELATED: Warriors take accountability for fouls in Game 4 loss

This brings us to Game 5, another closeout game, and the wisdom of starting Curry alongside Thompson.

If Nuggets coach Michael Malone wants to defend Curry with Gordon, the Warriors would welcome it. Curry would feast, as he did late in Game 4 whenever confronted by Denver center Nikola Jokic or Gordon.

If Kerr wants to open the game with his three-guard lineup of Curry-Poole-Thompson -- unlikely because he generally prefers to set an early defensive tone -- Malone has to decide which head of the Golden State snake will get the brunt of Denver’s defensive energy.

That, almost always, is Steph.

In which case JP can do his thing with a bit more freedom.

“It’s a good experience for Jordan,” Kerr said of Game 4. “He’s got to go through it to feel it. And then he’ll respond in Game 5.”

Kerr has two options with JP, start or Sixth Man. The latter seems more natural.

With the Warriors determined to avoid a flight to Denver for Game 6, there is only one option with Curry. And it’s not having him on the bench for the opening tip.

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