Chris Paul

Chris Paul shows he belongs in Warriors' closing lineup

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SAN FRANCISCO – Steve Kerr went experimental Wednesday night. True to his pregame words, the Warriors coach played a variety of lineups, and the result was various levels of success.

At least two changes Kerr made in a 116-115 win over the Kings likely will be routine in the regular season: Chris Paul opening the game on the bench and finishing it on the floor.

Paul’s statistical line – 13 points, nine assists, six rebounds – looked a lot like those has been submitting since entering the NBA in 2005. And while there were a couple moments when it was apparent that he still is learning the nuances of Kerr’s offensive system, his work late in the fourth quarter was a vivid illustration of his value.

“I didn’t even know I was going to play at the end of the fourth, because we hadn’t done that in any preseason game Paul told NBC Sports Bay Area. “But after 19 years, that’s sort of been a staple for me. Managing the end of games and whatnot.”

A Stephen Curry 3-pointer sent the Kings back to Sacramento and lifted the Chase Center crowd into a level of jubilation well beyond what might reasonably be expected of a preseason game.

“The guys did a great job down the stretch,” Kerr said after Curry's 3-ball with 6.4 seconds left punctuated a 20-8 run over the final 3:47. “It’s fun having Chris Paul down the stretch to get us organized. And it’s always fun to watch Steph do what he does.”

Golden State trailed 101-91 when Paul entered for Cory Joseph with 5:37 remaining and outscored Sacramento 25-14 the rest of the way. CP3’s 3-pointer pulled the Warriors within eight (107-99) with 3:23 remaining, and his midrange jumper less than a minute later cut it to five (108-103). He assisted on a Curry triple that narrowed the margin to four (110-106) with 1:57 left. Another dime to that led to a Curry jumper closed it to two (112-110) with 1:05 remaining.

The closing minutes were basically a Paul-Curry production.

“The combination on the court was amazing today,” Dario Sarić said. “Especially at the end, clutch time. Every possession matters, every shot matters, everything matters. The execution of these two players was amazing, on another level every time.”

After starting the first two preseason games and sitting out the third, Paul watched the Warriors fall behind 14-7 in the first four minutes before entering with 7:51 remaining in the first quarter. After a relatively unremarkable first half, he ended up plus-9 over 30 minutes.

And in the process, Paul flashed his growing on-court partnership with Curry.

“I think he makes Steph’s off-ball stuff better because wherever Steph goes, Chris will get him the ball,” Kerr said. “They had a couple plays where Steph was getting top-locked, and he had to make a back cut. One of the 3s on the left wing when he pump-faked, Chris got him the ball in perfect rhythm.

“Chris, he’s been doing this forever. He thrives down the stretch ... that’s who he is.”

CP3 was plus-9 for the game and plus-11 over a total of eight minutes in the fourth quarter.

“Coming in here with a great group of guys who know how to do the play (down the stretch), it’s just fun,” Paul said . “And we’ve only had a few games. And we ain’t even got Draymond (Green) yet.

“It’s going to be a process. There’s going to be ups and downs, but we’ve got a good group that can understand big picture.”

Most of Kerr’s combinations struggled through the first three quarters, the offense too often lacking harmony and the defense not spectacular enough to overcome those shortcomings.

But Paul’s late-game work emphasized the need to be in the closing lineup. No need to experiment with his role when the game is on the line.

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