SAN FRANCISCO — Now we know what happens when the Warriors are pushed to the edge in a first-round playoff series: Chase Center is placed on high alert, the home team feels a smidge of desperation, Stephen Curry treats this like an NBA Finals game and the rattled visiting team never has a chance.
Pretty much everyone in the building, except the one guy who wasn’t, was up and stomping their feet.
Oh, and Draymond Green? It was just him and his flat screen TV on Thursday, witnessing from afar the Warriors giving him another chance to salvage this series. Because had the Warriors fallen into a 3-0 hole, history says there would be no coming back from that, even against a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 16 years.
As it is, Green will return Sunday from his one-game suspension to an even louder atmosphere, one that was already considerable. Just ask Domantas Sabonis, the Kings’ center who was vocally targeted every time he touched the ball.
Kings vs. Warriors therefore should and probably will remain a very lively contest, both on the floor and in the stands. The Draymond suspension and the plucky Kings have added a jolt to this first round and, if nothing else, made the Warriors admit that they can’t take anything for granted.
“We turned the page pretty quickly,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “The league made their decision and so there was only one path for us to take.”
And so they punished the Kings virtually from the opening tip and removed all suspense. Golden State led all game and its largest lead was 23 points. The Warriors still trail, 2-1, and the Kings still carry a degree of confidence. But imagine what the situation would be like had the Green suspension actually cost the Warriors.
Not this time, it didn’t. And now we have a series. Here are five takeaways from the Warriors’ 114-97 Game 3 victory.
1. Curry came to cook
Curry was animated at times in this game and that’s usually reserved for bigger opponents and deeper playoff runs. The Warriors needed that Curry, if only to keep his teammates aware and the crowd hyped. Both were accomplished in a brilliant 36-point performance, laced with a long 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer (and a celebration to rub it in).
This is the Curry who carried the Warriors through much of last summer’s NBA Finals against the Celtics, when his teammates (Andrew Wiggins excepted) were largely inconsistent as a group. The Kings had no answers for Curry and while Davion Mitchell did a decent job on the Warriors’ star in Game 2, Thursday was a different story. Essentially, Curry set the tone for the night with 18 points by halftime and 28 through three quarters.
The great ones always rise to the occasion at the hint of trouble, which is why Curry belonged in a very select group of historical players even before this series, of course. You tend to take him and others like him for granted, but then Curry will piece together yet another wonderful night and make you realize, especially this deep into his career, how rare of a talent he is.
2. A shaky Sabonis
If you think Sabonis had a tough night in Game 2 while laying on the floor holding his chest, Thursday was a different kind of tough. Warriors fans treated him harshly — they obviously blamed Green’s suspension on Sabonis for being the instigator — and you could see this chilly reception coming from, well, Sacramento. He was booed during introductions and every time he touched the ball.
It’s probably safe to say Sabonis never heard such disrespect in his entire basketball career. He was never a villain or put himself in position to be anyone’s target in high school, college or the pros … until now. Question is, was Sabonis rattled by the atmosphere? He says no, yet his performance at times suggested otherwise. He had six turnovers compared to seven made shots.
And speaking of his offense: Sabonis has seemed out of sync all series. Kevon Looney is giving him open mid-range shots and Sabonis, for some reason doesn’t take them. Instead, Sabonis too often tries to back his way toward the rim for contested layups, which leads to missed shots and turnovers. Looney had 20 rebounds Thursday (along with nine assists while basically assuming the Draymond duties), and all things considered has outplayed Sabonis this series. That’s worth repeating, if only because Sabonis is an All-Star and Looney a role player … who tends to play a level above that in the postseason.
3. Warriors had plenty in reserve
Looney wasn’t the only member of the supporting cast who went next-level in Game 3. Moses Moody delivered the best postseason game of his short career, right when the Warriors needed it, too. He had 13 points in 16 minutes; his energy, fuel for the Warriors. Moody didn’t even play in Game 1 and had crumbs in Game 2. Draymond told Moody to “step up.” Evidently, Moody listened.
“It’s been that way all season,” he said. “Coming in, you don’t know if you’ll get two minutes or 20 minutes. I’ve had a lot of practice at this.”
The Warriors have spent the last few years grooming their young core to be contributors in moments like these, and the results have been mixed. Gary Payton II (who was injured and didn’t play Thursday) rose to that level last June in the NBA Finals, but Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and the now-departed James Wiseman were inconsistent. They were not on Thursday.
Kerr said: “You ride with your stars and the role players step up.”
4. No deep threats for Sacramento
The Kings need to send out a search party for rookie guard Keegan Murray, who turned to vapor once the playoffs began. Murray and his distance shooting were crucial to Sacramento’s rejuvenation and No. 3-seed status all season, but he is discovering how the playoffs are a different beast — especially against the defending champs.
Murray finally made his first 3-pointer in this series, and it came with 42 seconds left in Game 3, a meaningless bucket in a blowout loss. For the series he is 1-for-7 from deep and 3-for-13 overall. He has more than twice as many fouls (nine) as made baskets (four). Sacramento was able to survive his lack of production in the first two games because Malik Monk took up the slack, but there would eventually come a time when those missing 3-pointers would prove costly, and Thursday was the night for that.
The only consistent scoring the Kings received was from De’Aaron Fox (26 points, the only Sacramento player to break 20), no surprise. It was only the fourth time all season that the Kings, who were historically efficient, failed to break 100 points. But back to Murray: He made 206 3-pointers to set a rookie single-season record and connected on 41.1%, keeping the defense honest and the lane open for Fox and Sabonis.
Murray has an unflappable personality, never too high or low, which seemingly would benefit him in the playoff heat. But whether he’s simply going through an untimely slump, or the Warriors’ defense has figured him out, or he’s spooked by the postseason, Murray hasn’t delivered. He’ll be the main topic on the off-day when the Kings’ coaching staff is weighing what’s wrong.
5. What’s the future for Draymond?
Green spent the night watching presumably from home, and was taken off the hook with the Warriors’ win.
Speaking of wins, Steve Kerr said the Warriors “probably don’t win those four titles” without Green. They certainly don’t win the first, but they had Kevin Durant for the next two. And in the 2022 NBA Finals for the fourth championship, the Warriors beat the Celtics largely in spite of Green, who struggled in every game but the last. At age 33, is his importance to the Warriors still worth the drama?
We’ll soon find out. Green’s future was a conversation piece before this suspension and now it’s definitely a spicy topic within the organization. If the Warriors refuse to extend him this summer, that’s a hint. Next year’s contract at $27 million is his option and he’ll likely exercise it because few if any teams have the cap space and/or desire to pay him that, or offer a rich extension should he opt out. Next move is anyone’s to make.
Good vibes from the @warriors as they head to the locker room…
— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2023
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