SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors started winning Game 3 a day before the start.
They started winning this must-win game before Wednesday’s practice. They started winning this game Tuesday night, minutes after the league informed Bob Myers that Draymond Green would be suspended for Game 3.
The Warriors started winning this game when Myers told Green, Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry that they couldn’t lose focus, that the media or the league had a game and series to win and couldn’t even begin to tell the media or the league about that decision. . They had to save. Then Green spoke briefly to the team, emphasizing those points, and Myers went out and said it all at a news conference after practice.
The coaches asked. The players took it to heart. The team leaned together. On Thursday, even after knowing guard Gary Payton II was ill and likely to miss the game, the Warriors rallied with energy and outlasted the Kings 114-97 at the Chase Center to cut Sacramento’s series lead to 2-1. Game 4 comes on Sunday.
There is still a long way to go in this series and the postseason if the Warriors are going to have a real shot at retaining their championship or avoiding an embarrassing first-round exit. But if the Warriors had felt sorry for themselves and moped through Game 3, it would have been all over. Instead, the Warriors looked like themselves again as they bounced back from two losses in Sacramento.
Because they felt like themselves again – fighting their way up, cornered and focused on showing everyone why it took more than this to bring them down.
“I thought Bob set the tone in his press conference,” Kerr told me Thursday night. “He came to our coaches’ meeting and talked a little bit about how important it is to get that message out to the players. Then he went to the media. I think that’s a smart way to approach things. Whining and complaining about the result doesn’t do any good. You move on. …
“That’s the bottom line message from Bob, from Draymond, from me. It’s about us competing and locking up, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. And the guys responded well.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of anger involved. It didn’t work until the game started. No one in the organization expects the league to punish Green beyond the ejection he received for his hard step on Domantas Sabonis’ chest in the fourth quarter of Game 2. But the league ruled that Green’s suspension was “based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike conduct.”
The warriors saw it. They felt that. They had the answer. Game 3 had it all — a frenetic defense that produced 12 steals, Kevon Looney almost single-handedly shouldering Green’s rebounding responsibilities by scoring 20, significant contributions from Donte DiVincenzo, Moses Moody and Jonathan Cuminga, and, of course, the guy who wore it every high in Green. And the person who came here even at a low level is no. 30.
“They say Draymond has a history, and so do we,” Carey immediately told TNT.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors put it all together when they needed it most
That was a flash of anger. That was the strength of the team. But it doesn’t flow out of control. An example: They committed just 11 turnovers in Game 2 after 20 turnovers. It was processed with a quiet demeanor and quiet adjustment. They can’t replace everything that green gives. But he can win.
“I know what Bob said here yesterday — we’ve got a job to do and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Curry said at his presser. “So understand the task at hand, and we’ve accomplished a lot at this point. You’ve got to dig a little bit out of that identity and that comfort zone of who we know we are. When your back is against the wall, you have a night like tonight. It’s Definitely gave us a lot of life and was a great way to respond to these past 48 hours.
They won without Green. This was their reply to the Commissioner and all. Now they get him back for Game 4.
“It was sad,” Klay Thompson said. “But you accept it, you move on. Strength in numbers. We all knew we could pick up the slack with Trey out, and we did that tonight.
Looney said: “We are a very proud team. We know how to respond when our backs are against the wall. We always show… I think Draymond knew that. He knows he’s not playing tonight, he knows I’m going to respond, and he knows he can hold down the fort while he’s out. And we are happy to have him back for the next game.
Kerr also had to make some strategic changes. He put Jordan Poole in the starting spot vacated by Green, which is no surprise. But many, including Kings coach Mike Brown, who was Kerr’s assistant for six years, thought the Warriors would need to play mostly zone defense to compensate for a major drop in defensive firepower. Throw in Payton’s absence, their best man-to-man defender and the Kings’ deadly combination of creative scorers and of course the Warriors had to play in the zone, right?
“You’re wrong, Mike B!” Thompson said with a smile. “We sprinkled it at times, (but) I think we played well tonight, especially man-to-man.”
The Warriors played almost man-to-man and still managed to contain De’Aaron Fox (26 points on 22 shots), Sabonis (six turnovers) and Malik Monk (1-for-9 shooting). Kerr said they didn’t really play bad man-to-man defense in the two Sacramento losses. They need to stop turning it around and give kings an open court.
“We played well in the half-court all series,” explained Kerr. “What killed us in the first two games was turnovers and not boxing out. I’ve always believed that unless you have a plan that isn’t working, you shouldn’t have to make adjustments if it’s basically killing you. So we don’t have to make any changes. We had to deal with the basics. rebound, Take care of the foul ball. What we did.
“The first two games, we were pretty good in the half-court, but we lost ourselves in the half-court because of our turnovers. Then they got those second-chance opportunities. I thought we were more physical and smarter tonight.
Kerr also made a big change in Curry’s rotation. Instead of subbing Curry only once per half (which would usually have him back to second and fourth for a few minutes at the end of the first and third quarters), Kerr only pulled Curry for six minutes in the first quarter. Close the quarter, then repeat between the second and third quarters. That set up Curry to play the entire fourth quarter, and he played until garbage time.
Part of the advantage: It got Curry on the floor with the second unit to start the second and fourth quarters, helping Cuminga, Moody and DiVincenzo settle in. That, of course, is Green’s job.
“We felt it was important at 2-0,” Kerr said. “We felt like it confirmed the different lineups. We liked the look of it on paper. I went to him yesterday, and of course being Steph, he said, ‘No, I’ve got it. It’s good.’ One thing we want to make sure … sometimes he takes the first quarter to feel the game a little bit. I think (assistant Bruce Fraser) talked to him about being aggressive. ‘You’re coming out six minutes into the first quarter, don’t be shy on that first six. ‘ Typical Steph, though, he’s game for anything.
Curry always has fun with the outside focus on when he comes out and when he goes back in, but he also understands how important it is to get this right. He finished with 36 points and was a plus-24 in 37 minutes. The Warriors will win titles if they maximize the value of Curry’s minutes on Thursday.
“We like to keep guessing my rotations and minutes, and I got that question Game 1,” Curry said with a laugh. “I might, you know, change it again in Game 4. We’ll see.”
The Warriors felt like themselves again, even without Green to shoot them and the occasional league office. The Warriors may not win the series or knock off the Kings and not go very far in the postseason. But on Thursday, the Warriors wanted the world to know that they can survive even when they feel wrong. In fact, only then can they not be defeated.
Thompson: Curry and the gang pulled it all together when they needed it most
Slater: How Kevon Looney Overrode Draymond Green’s Absence, Leads Warriors to Game 3 Victory
TK Program: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page Apple, Spotify And Athletic Processor.
(Photo: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)