Heading into Warriors-Kings Game 5 on Wednesday night, the question on everyone's mind is whether De'Aaron Fox, with his shooting hand broken finger, will be able to play. The answer appears to be yes.
Fox went into great detail about his injury, the protective covering he'll wear, and why he doesn't think it'll be a major problem. That remains to be seen, particularly if Fox takes another hit on the finger.
Meanwhile, Golden State has its own questions to ponder, starting with whether Draymond Green should return to the starting lineup.
Green says it was his idea to come off the bench in Game 4. He watched the Warriors win Game 3 while he was serving his suspension with Jordan Poole in his starting spot, but the way Green tells it, it wasn't Poole who would've gone back to the bench had Green reassumed his starting role. It was Kevon Looney.
"Looney just had 20 rebounds [in Game 3], nine assists, dominated the game," Green explained on his podcast. "You don't then go to him and say, 'Hey, your reward is to come out of the starting lineup. As a leader of a team, that's how you lose guys."
(Listen to Green's full account of how the decision to bring him off the bench came about. It sheds a lot of light on why he is such a respected teammate).
There's been no confirmation that Looney was going to be the one to come out of the starting lineup had Green returned to his normal role, but it makes sense. Steve Kerr prioritized spacing in Game 4. Poole in with the starters provides a lot more room for the offense to operate with defenders forced to honor four shooters rather than three, as is the case when Golden State starts Looney and Green together.
Instead, Kerr flip-flopped Looney and Green for much of the game, and he only played Gary Payton II, who also missed Game 3 (sick), for a total of seven minutes in Game 4. The Kings are faster and more dynamic defensively (throw the numbers out; we're just talking pure pressure) than the Warriors, who are having to work extremely hard to generate offensive separation.
The extra space afforded by one-big lineups and Payton, another non-shooter, being relegated to spot minutes was evident. Golden State's shooters got going early, and then Kerr went back to the two-big lineup to start the second half.
Might that indicate he'll go back to it to start Game 5? Perhaps. But there's a lot to ponder here. Poole is clearly better when he's playing with the starters. That's always been true. And the Warriors need Poole in the ongoing effort to keep pace with the electric Kings offense.
If it were me, I would bring Green off the bench again. Green said it: If it's not broke, don't fix it. Golden State has won two straight games in this series with Poole and Looney in the starting lineup. Don't mess with what's working. Keep spreading the floor with four shooting threats as often as possible, which is to say as long as the defense can hold up with only one of Green or Looney on the floor. Stretch the Kings' defense out to the 3-point line so Curry and Poole can have some avenues into the paint. Golden State needs some easy baskets. They're having to work harder for their points than Sacramento in this series.
Lucky for them, Curry and Thompson are two of the greatest tough-shot makers in history, and Poole is a magician when he's on, too. But relying on that is a risk, and the Warriors don't have the room for error that some people think they may have if Fox is limited or even if he leaves the games early. That's not how these things tend to go in the NBA. Consider:
- Ja Morant out for Game 2. Everyone says the Lakers will roll. Grizzlies win.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Game 2. The Bucks are in trouble! The Bucks kill the Heat.
- Tyler Herro done for year. Giannis back. Heat are cooked! Now they're up 3-1.
- Paul George out Game 1 and the Clippers still beat the Suns, then damn near beat them again with both George and Kawhi Leonard out in Games 3 and 4.
- Green and Payton out for Game 3, and the Warriors still defeat Sacramento.
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The point is, Fox's finger, even if it is so bad that it takes him entirely out of his game, does not guarantee the Warriors anything. If anything, it means more Davion Mitchell making life a living hell for Curry. Malik Monk can get hot and, for one game, do some things Fox usually does. Kevin Huerter has been nothing in this series, but that can change real quick. Domantas Sabonis is due for a breakout. Keegan Murray got hot in Game 4, and that could carry over.
Independent of Fox's status, the Warriors still have to put their best foot forward to win this pivotal Game 5, and Kerr is going to have to decide if that means bringing Green off the bench and prioritizing spacing with his lineup decisions as he did in Game 4.