Steph starting fourth might be Dubs' best late-season answer


The sight of Stephen Curry starting the fourth quarter Monday night cooled anxieties among the Warriors and, moreover, might have affirmed a thought already growing inside Steve Kerr’s mind.

Specifically, particularly in close games on the road, at this point of the season, the coach could customarily start fourth quarters with Curry.

The Warriors were trailing the Rockets by one midway through the third quarter when Curry limped off the floor, at which moment a few citizens of Dub Nation might be excused for wondering if the road jinx was in full effect. Would an 11-game losing streak become 12?

Curry ensured that would not happen, engineering a cathartic 121-108 victory at Toyota Center.

Kerr’s fourth-quarter opening lineup featured Curry, joined by Draymond Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Anthony Lamb and Jordan Poole. That group pushed an 84-80 lead to 95-87 in a little more than two minutes. It was a blissful mix of team defense and Curry’s offense.

“The key, the combo out there starting the fourth quarter – Draymond, Lamb and Kuminga – started switching everything,” Kerr told reporters in Houston. “A really good three-man combo defensively and we strung together a bunch of stops. And that gave us the lead.”

No, that extended the lead. With Curry either scoring or assisting on nine of the first 11 points in the quarter, Rockets coach Stephen Silas, seeing the look in Curry’s eyes and sensing danger, called a timeout.

Too late. By the time Curry went back to the bench, with 7:37 remaining, he was plus-9 in the quarter and Golden State had a 13-point lead.

Good night, Houston.

The Warriors won the fourth quarter 37-28 by forcing four turnovers, holding the Rockets to 42.3 percent shooting and following Steph’s lead.

“We had some great shot-making from Anthony Lamb and JK made a nice midrange move,” Klay Thompson said. “And Steph, obviously, doing his thing. Yeah, those were the big components of the fourth-quarter surge.”

Though there have been several adjustments to Curry’s rotation this season and this one – his third consecutive game starting the fourth quarter – was productive and necessary and perhaps out of happenstance.

Steph was forced to the sideline with 5:17 remaining in the third quarter after his left leg banged into a falling Poole under the basket. Drew Yoder, Golden State’s director of medical services, came over for a brief chat but Curry, after putting on heat pack, waved him off.

And, more importantly, returned for the fourth.

“I’m fine,” Curry said after the game.

Curry’s traditional rotation, for years, has been full first and third quarters and the last six minutes of the second and fourth. Kerr has been more flexible the past two seasons, largely because of the team’s general health.

But this might be the way to go over the final nine games – certainly the four remaining road games – given the stakes and the team’s struggles away from Chase Center.

The last time Curry didn’t open the fourth quarter, last Wednesday, the Warriors watched the Clippers extended a six-point lead to 12 in less than three minutes. Six days earlier, in Memphis, Curry sat for the first 4:22 of the fourth quarter and the Grizzlies extended their lead from six to, yes, 12.

The Warriors, you might recall, lost both games.

RELATED: Klay uses 2018 Rockets as motivation for big game in Houston

It’s not that the Warriors can’t lose if Curry starts the fourth. They have. And they will. But the opening minutes of the fourth have been so pivotal that having the team’s best player on the floor provides a sense of belief.

It provided more than that in Houston. Curry needed only a couple minutes to apply the whip hand that drove the Warriors full speed toward the finish line.

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