2023 Playoffs: West First Round | Kings (3) vs. Warriors (6)

5 takeaways from Warriors' thrilling Game 4 victory vs. Kings

Draymond Green volunteers to come off the bench in his return from suspension and Golden State survives a rare gaffe by Stephen Curry to pull even with Sacramento.

With Game 4 hanging in the balance, the Warriors clamp down on De'Aaron Fox to preserve the win.

SAN FRANCISCO — The championship of Northern California will require two more games, three if basketball fans are lucky. Because Warriors-Kings if nothing else has been worth the drive on I-80.

Two cities, separated by 90 miles but tied in the first-round series, are engaged in a tense tug of war and nobody’s quite sure where this is headed, other than Sacramento for Game 5. Everyone seems emotionally invested, from the players to the arenas, where there’s a contest within the contest to see which one is louder and prouder.

The final moments of Game 4 Sunday were … interesting. Golden State had a five-point lead with 42 seconds left. Then Stephen Curry, one of the headier players in the game, was whistled for a technical foul in the final moments for calling a timeout he didn’t have. De’Aaron Fox then drilled a 3 to pull the Kings within a point. At least Curry atoned for the mistake by forcing Fox — winner of the inaugural Kia Clutch Player of the Year award — to surrender the ball on the final possession to Harrison Barnes, the ex-Warrior whose potentially game-winning 3-point attempt found iron.

So here we are. And welcome back, Draymond Green; the series and the Warriors and your podcast missed your presence. It’s 2-2 after Golden State’s 126-125 victory. These are your Five Takeaways from Game 4 and the knotted series:

1. Draymond has plenty in reserve

The Kings lament a missed opportunity to go up 3-1 while Draymond Green sends a message to his critics.

Green came off the bench — at his suggestion — and checked in to a rousing applause from the loyal and very forgiving fans at Chase Center, as expected. Less than a minute later, he picked up a technical foul. Also as expected?

If nothing else, Green can read the room. It would’ve taken him committing a felony for the referees to call a second tech and an automatic ejection … just days after he was ejected and served a one-game suspension for, well, you know.

Anyway: Green for the most part did what he does, which means he gave a solid effort with his on-ball defense — guarding the shifty Fox at times — and his passing. His biggest and most important contribution came when he combined both of those strengths. With 90 seconds left, he blocked Domantas Sabonis’ layup, and then, to complete the sequence, he found Andrew Wiggins with a pocket pass and a layup to put the Warriors up five points. It was a lead that seemed safe until Curry pulled a Chris Webber. Well, no harm, in hindsight. And Green helped Curry force Fox to pass the ball on the game’s final play.

So it was a victory all around for the Warriors. Draymond explained his reason for being a reserve, saying: “I saw what was working when we won (Game 3). I didn’t want to come back and shake things up; that’s not right. I wanted to do what I thought was best for the team.” It was a noble gesture by Draymond, but starting is overrated. It’s all about who’s on the floor at the moment of truth; even he said “the end of the game is more important.”

And that’s where Draymond made his presence known.

2. Kings finally get more from Murray

This is new territory for most of the Kings and especially Keegan Murray if only because he’s, well, a rookie. He set the NBA single-season record for most 3-pointers by a rookie, but for the first three games he was mainly vapor, combining for a total of one 3-pointer, three field goals and 10 points overall. His floor-stretching ability to hit open looks was valuable to the Kings’ fluid offense during the regular season, and so Sacramento was handicapped by his struggles.

Finally, after getting the message from coach Mike Brown and studying the Warriors’ defense for weak points, Murray had his breakout playoff game and it helped Sacramento keep the outcome suspenseful until the buzzer. He went 5-for-7 from deep, scored 23 points and made the Warriors respect his shooting for once in this series. Brown said he playfully told Murray he would “cuss him out” if he caved to his slump and stopped shooting.

“Hey, look, Keegan is a rookie,” Brown said. “He’s got to understand that he gets no passes. He’s got to bring it like everyone else and if he’s not bringing it, he’s going to hear from me.”

3. Poole party was tardy

Better late than never for Jordan Poole who, like Murray, began this series slowly before providing an impact. Poole did have an excuse for his struggles: he’s dealing with a bum ankle that stole some of his quickness and lateral movement. The Warriors having a pair of off days between games helped and the healing powers worked their magic, causing Poole to feel a lot friskier Sunday.

Poole was good for 22 points, his high for the series. Even better for the Warriors, Poole was efficient for once, shooting 8-for-15 after missing 21 of his previous 30 shots. When he, Curry (32 points) and Klay Thompson (26) are causing problems collectively, the Warriors are at their offensive best. And it was no coincidence that all three broke 20 points in a victory. That’s the best news going forward for the Warriors: that their dangerous three-guard lineup is healthy and, we assume, ready to be on the same productive page, finally, for the series.

The Kings don’t exactly bring the best defense in the NBA, and the Warriors are one of the few teams that Sacramento doesn’t want to get into a pace contest against. Once you add Andrew Wiggins (18 points) to the mix, the Warriors have more than enough firepower to accept that challenge.

4. Steph screwed up; it happens

About that timeout, here’s the deal: The Warriors were unsuccessful on a challenge (for an illegal screen) a few moments before and coach Steve Kerr said he didn’t remind the players that unsuccessful challenges cost a timeout. In this instance, their final one. So Curry wasn’t aware.

“That’s 100% on me,” Kerr said. 

But it’s also on the assistant coaches to speak up. And a veteran like Curry usually knows what’s up. Anyway, Curry was trapped in the backcourt and tried to use a timeout to bail him out.

“I knew we challenged,” he said, “but I didn’t realize that when we challenged, we had no timeouts left. I thought it was the smartest play in the world when I saw the trap. I looked over at the bench and everyone was shaking their head.”

As it turned out, disaster was averted when Barnes missed the go-ahead shot at the buzzer. Had he made it to cap a stunning Kings’ comeback, there would be some soul-searching by Curry and Kerr, and the Warriors would be heading to Sacramento down 3-1.

But, it’s all moot, and Curry could halfway joke about it afterward. “A good learning lesson” is how he explained the whole harrowing experience.

5. Game 5: Advantage, nobody?

Sacramento looks to capitalize on Golden State's persistent road woes to retake the series lead.

Where is this series shifting, if anywhere or to anyone? That’s a good question with no real clear answer. This has the smell of a seven-gamer. While the Kings own home-court advantage, the Warriors’ road issues during the regular season appear to be a thing of the past.

A glaring lack of playoff experience hasn’t tripped up the young Kings, at least so far. It didn’t prevent Fox (38 points) from once again being a problem for the Warriors in Game 4, especially in clutch time. Maybe the only member of the Kings who seems shook is Sabonis, who has yet to play beyond his regular-season level. Meanwhile, Curry (32 points on 49% shooting, 40% on 3-pointers, 95% free throws) is playing nearly as well as he did the last time we saw him in the postseason, when he took down the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals.

It has been, for the most part, a well-played, competitive and intense series, everything it was meant to be. Ultimately, the stars will decide which team moves to the next round. In that sense, the Kings will continue to lean on Fox, who has been spectacular and is quickly building a playoff reputation for himself. They need more from Sabonis, and also for Malik Monk to continue producing off the bench. And if it is indeed about the stars, the Warriors by virtue of owning more of them own the edge.

But it’s that close.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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