Steph gets minutes restriction lifted at the perfect time originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO — Time to state the obvious: The more Steph Curry, the better. At least for the Warriors, not the Denver Nuggets.
That was obvious Sunday in the Warriors’ Game 4 loss of their first-round playoff series, their first loss of the best-of-seven series, and it should be the expectation going forward. Now that Curry is six weeks removed from sustaining a sprained ligament in his left foot, he still is managing any lingering pain but he can toss any minutes restrictions out the window.
“Yeah, he has no limitations on his minutes now,” Steve Kerr declared Tuesday to reporters, one day before the Warriors’ Game 5 matchup against the Nuggets at Chase Center.
The elephant in the room remains, for now. Kerr and Curry both avoided any questions on if he will return to the Warriors’ starting lineup on Wednesday night after coming off the bench in the first four games. With a wink and a sly smile, Curry acted like he forgot the question asked to him when the topic was brought up. Kerr went an even more comical route.
Kerr can pull out a number of Gregg Popovich stories out from his back pocket, and he certainly has one regarding decisions with the starting lineup. About three years ago when the Warriors and Spurs were set to square off, Pop submitted a starting lineup 40 minutes before tipoff that included players Hall of Famers George Gervin (now 69 years old) and Artis Gilmore (now 72 years old). The prank earned countless laughs from Kerr and gave him the idea of one day exchanging a Warriors lineup that includes Tom Tolbert (now 56 years old), Jim Petersen (now 60 years old) and Sarunas Marciulionis (now 57 years old).
Back to reality, the status of the 34-year-old Curry remains a waiting game.
“I’m not answering that question, we’ll figure it out,” Kerr concluded.
First slowly and then somewhat rapidly, Curry’s minutes have continued to increase through the first four games of the series. He played 21-plus minutes in Game 1, just under 23 minutes in Game 2 and slightly over 30 minutes in Game 3 before taking a big leap in Game 4.
Curry was rushed into the contest after Klay Thompson picked up two early fouls. It was clear Curry’s rhythm was thrown off at first as he missed his first five shots, but he didn’t show any signs of fatigue and only got better as the game went on. He led the Warriors with 33 points and 23 of those came in the second half. In the fourth quarter, he took over.
Steph scored 15 points in the final frame as the Warriors nearly completed a huge comeback before falling short of sweeping the Nuggets. His teammates combined to score 17 points.
“It feels good just knowing everything’s moving in the right direction managing the injury,” Curry said Tuesday of his health. “These first four games, it’s obviously been a little different and trying to make the most of it. It’s gone pretty well in terms of the first few games with the minutes restriction, the third game bumping up a little bit and then getting to a normal playoff rotation in terms of playing 37 minutes and feeling good.
“My body came out fine and all that, so I’m not worried about it moving forward.”
The truth is, Curry, Kerr, the rest of the Warriors and the rest of the league know the two-time MVP is coming back to the starting lineup. Perhaps that will be as soon as Game 5 with the Warriors looking to close out Denver.
Jordan Poole had his first rough scoring night in what felt like forever in Sunday’s loss, after filling in so admirably in Curry’s place as the Warriors’ starting point guard. If Curry does take back his place Wednesday night, Poole likely would be the one to take a seat at the start of the game since Kerr is keen on opening with a strong defensive presence like center Kevon Looney. The Nuggets playing through a 7-foot, 284-pound center only adds to the thought process.
With Nuggets coach Michael Malone throwing the much bigger and stronger Aaron Gordon on Poole, the skinny sharpshooter struggled a bit with the added physicality and was out of control at times. He never could get going and shot just 3-for-10 from the field, making only one of his five 3-point attempts. His 11 points were his lowest since scoring four in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 27.
Curry has seen it all, as opposed to this being Poole’s first experience in the playoffs. The breakout star has risen to the challenge many times this season, but there isn’t a single stat for the championship experience Steph always can turn to. He would invite Gordon trying to guard him, and the same goes with Nikola Jokic.
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The Warriors have trailed after the first quarter in three of the first four games of this series. Kerr has stressed Golden State needs to come out with controlled aggression and get off the a good start in Game 5, especially against a desperate team like the Nuggets. More minutes for Curry, and possibly unleashing him right of the games, sure sounds like a recipe for success.
When he last faced a Game 5 in the playoffs, Curry willed the Warriors to a win over the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Finals, scoring 31 points while adding eight rebounds and seven assists. He played the entire first quarter and dropped 14 points, pushing the Warriors into an early lead.
They can use that kind of start again three years later, striking fear in the hearts of the Nuggets and sending them back to give Curry and the rest of his teammates some needed rest before their road to redemption continues.
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