Stats, eye test prove Warriors should start Porter in Game 4


After consulting with his staff, Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to put Gary Payton II, making his NBA postseason debut, into the starting lineup in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. A wise call, for GP2’s defense is crucial in the effort to contain Grizzlies star Ja Morant.

The Experiment No. 1 was successful, as the Warriors won. It might have also worked in Game 2, but GP2 was knocked out of the game three minutes after tipoff.

GP2’s absence forced The Experiment No. 2, in Game 3. It was less successful. Kerr & Co. started rookie Jonathan Kuminga, who lasted seven minutes, scoring four points but committing three turnovers.

The Warriors won Game 3 without JK.

They won it with Otto Porter Jr.

OPJ came off the bench to replace Kuminga in the first quarter and pretty quickly began making an impact. The Warriors were trailing by 10 when Porter entered. Five minutes later, after a 13-5 run, they reduced the deficit to two by the end of the quarter.

Kuminga was minus-10 for his seven minutes, Porter plus-8 for his five minutes. Moreover, Kuminga was minus-2 for the game – the only starter in the minus category – while OPJ was plus-30.

Which led to the question I asked Kerr on Sunday: It is conceivable that OPJ could earn a start at some point in the series?

“Yeah,” Kerr said. “It’s conceivable.”

Game 4 on Monday night seems like a prudent time to make such a move. Kerr has not been willing to name his starters until shortly before tipoff, so there was no way he’d make such an announcement 30 hours in advance.

But giving a Porter a start – The Experiment No. 3 – would put an experienced player on the court with four other veterans. Trying Kuminga in that role was with the hope that the vets could shield his worst tendencies. They could not.

“He did a lot of good stuff out there,” Kerr began. “I was really happy with JK. His defense was good. He ran the floor. He attacked, got a couple easy buckets for us.

“The improvement has to come from the turnovers. He had the three turnovers in the first quarter, just overly aggressive and got a little bit out of control.”

It was clear that Kuminga wanted to make his presence felt, even if it meant neglecting his teammates. His personal interests took him outside team concepts and put the Warriors in an early hole.

Porter helped them climb out, largely because his approach is the opposite of that exposed by Kuminga’s tendencies. OPJ finds multiple ways to contribute without disrupting the court chemistry.

“You can trust him out there no matter what he's asked to do,” Stephen Curry said of Porter after Game 3.

“He's been a guy that makes the right play,” Draymond Green said. “He knows where to be on the floor. He rebounds very well. He's very steady. He doesn't take much risk. He's just a very steady force for us.”

In 24 minutes of playing time, Porter squeezed in 13 points, on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-5 from distance, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. He was the definition of the highly valued “glue guy.”

OPJ is not going to jump over the defense, as Kuminga does – and as Payton can do. But at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, he’s a solid presence in the paint. He also showed in Game 3 signs of regaining his floor-stretching credibility.

If his shot isn’t falling, he delivers necessities. If it is falling, he’s a luxury.

“A lot of times during the regular season, the rebounding would be one thing,” Curry said. “But he would always just be in the right position and set a good flare screen, or we would do a swing-swing and he would pin in on his own guy; plays that you can't teach. You just have a read and a feel for how things flow.

“There's always a good confidence when he can make those type of plays, because again, like our motion offense, you can find yourself in positions where you have to create some type of advantage, and he did it in very kind of creative and clever ways.”

RELATED: Warriors might have found missing maturity in Game 3 win

Porter has come off the bench in all eight of Golden State’s postseason games. He is a cumulative plus-76. The Warriors want to keep him under 25 minutes, which still can be done if he starts.

When Kerr says this is “conceivable,” it’s because he knows OPJ has earned the opportunity.

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