Despite opening the Western Conference semifinals with consecutive wins, Steve Kerr announced Wednesday that he’ll be changing the Golden State Warriors’ starting lineup for Game 3 of their second-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night. In fairness to the head coach, he’s got a pretty good reason to make the switch.
When Stephen Curry made his return to the lineup in Game 2 after nearly six weeks on the shelf with a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, he did so as a reserve, coming off the bench for the first time since Game 4 of the 2016 Western semis, when he returned from another knee sprain to bury the Portland Trail Blazers. After a similarly dynamic Curry performance on Tuesday — 28 points on 15 shots in 27 minutes to help the Warriors take a 2-0 lead — Kerr evidently came away convinced that Steph’s stint as a second-unit spark plug shouldn’t last any longer.
“Oh yeah, yeah. He’ll start Game 3,” Kerr said during a Wednesday interview on Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game. “You don’t keep a guy like that on the bench for long … now that the focus shifts and there’s a few days until the next game, he’s gonna play a few more minutes — so he’ll be in the starting lineup.”
Considering how effective the Warriors’ offense was with Curry on the court compared with him on the sideline during the regular season, and the extra gear Golden State clicked into with him on the floor in Game 2 …
Warriors' offensive rating with Steph Curry on the floor tonight: 130.0.
Off the floor: 72.7
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 2, 2018
… that seems like a pretty wise decision by your man Steve Kerr, who clearly saw what he needed to see out of Curry to feel comfortable slotting him back into the first five.
“His knee is fine,” Kerr said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that he hasn’t played in [5 1/2] weeks. So any sort of minutes restriction was only based on his conditioning. So there was no holds barred in terms of his knee.”
And since the only way to get Curry back into top game fitness is to keep running him out there, the Warriors will make the painful move of breaking up an undefeated starting lineup by sending Nick Young back to the bench to make room for a two-time Most Valuable Player and the linchpin of everything the Warriors have been during their ascent to the league’s upper echelon over the past four years. Sometimes, you have to make tough choices in the postseason.
The big question from here is: who’ll join Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the starting unit for Game 3?
Andre Iguodala has started all seven of Golden State’s playoff games so far, slotting in as Kerr’s de facto point guard in Curry’s absence. He’s performed very well, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 27.6 minutes per game, shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from the 3-point arc while using his length and smarts to help lead the Warriors to the postseason’s No. 1 defensive efficiency mark. And we already know that the so-called “Hamptons Five” lineup remains the ace up the Warriors’ sleeve when they want to kick things into overdrive and try to put an opponent away.
But with a two-game lead in hand and the Warriors’ top problem remaining the stalling of Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis, Kerr could opt to start bigger — perhaps by replacing Iguodala with center Kevon Looney, who averaged 24 minutes off the bench at the first two games at Oracle and acquitted himself well alongside Green as Golden State’s first line of defense for limiting Davis and cleaning the defensive glass — while keeping Iguodala’s powder dry and reserving his top lineup for when he really needs it.
Wednesday’s radio announcement aside, Kerr’s never been much for sharing his starting lineup before he absolutely has to, so it’s unlikely we’ll find out who’s taking the fifth spot until shortly before tipoff of Game 3. For now, though, the Pelicans know they’ll be dealing with Steph from Jump Street on Friday night, and that if they’re going to avoid being on the brink of elimination come Saturday morning, they’re going to have to do it by slowing down the full-strength Steph-and-KD Warriors — something nobody’s really been able to do yet.
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