Warriors vs. Celtics: Steve Kerr sitting Stephen Curry to end third quarter might’ve cost Golden State Game 3

Let’s get it straight: The Boston Celtics are a better team than the Golden State Warriors. I picked the Celtics as winners of the series from the start because they have an advantage in almost every facet of the game, albeit a slight one in some cases. They’re taller and more athletic defensively, and that goes double on the offensive end, where they slammed the Warriors with a 33 percent offensive rebound rate and a 26-point paint rating difference in their Game 3 win.

The Celtics have to find several mismatches against smaller Golden State defenders for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to exploit, and exploit, the inability of warriors to stay ahead of them. They will go downhill if they score by themselves or pull help and kick to open 3 point shooter. It’s easy, and if the Celtics leave it at that, that is, don’t get too fancy and start hitting each other with sloppy turnovers and ill-advised shots, they’ve shown they have a pretty tight grip on this matchup.

Golden State basically has just one horse to ride.

His name is Stephen Curry.

Curry was the best player in this series. Looking like his old self, he was popping shots from all over the court while the Warriors have gone almost exclusively on pick-and-roll offense to ride his hot hand and not mess with Boston’s off-ball switching defense to bang around. Curry delivers, and he did it again Wednesday in the third quarter when Golden State turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead in just over eight minutes.

It was a typical curry corridor. Boston faltered as the two-time MVP scored 15 points with a 4-of-5-3-point shoot in those eight minutes before Steve Kerr made the decision to bench him with 2:53 minutes left. There were two reasons Kerr did this: First, he wanted to give Curry a breather so he could play the full fourth quarter. Second, Curry had four fouls and Kerr didn’t want to risk him picking up his fifth.

You won’t hear much about this decision. It wasn’t even mentioned in the postgame pressers. But I think it was the wrong move, so much so that it may have cost Golden State the game.

Of course I can’t say that exactly. When Curry went on the bench, the Warriors were two points behind, and they lost just two points over the final 2:53 to start the fourth quarter four down. But everything about the decision — to protect Curry from a fifth foul and give him rest despite having only played 27 minutes up to that point — was conservative, and it chilled the one upper hand Golden State has to play this series .

Here, too, Boston has the advantage almost everywhere in the long run. But Curry, standing on a heater, can put out all of that, and that’s exactly what he did when Kerr poured water on the fire. There’s no question Boston was happy to see Curry bench, and every time you do something your opponent asks you to do, you’re not doing the right thing.

The way Curry intended, there’s a real chance that instead of losing by four, the Warriors could have gone into the fourth quarter with six or eight up. Mentally, it’s a completely different situation for both sides. Also, you can’t just cool down a hot shooter and expect it to be hot again three minutes later. Curry opened the fourth quarter missing 3 and three turnovers, and the Warriors were down nine in the first two minutes of the quarter.

Boston has never looked back.

This series is being discussed as fairly balanced, but increasingly that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Warriors are playing uphill. Next to the Celtics, they are small and slow. And when you’re trying to win a fight against a bigger, faster opponent, it’s imperative that you land a big punch whenever you get the chance.

The Warriors got that chance to end the third quarter when they beat Curry and start the fourth when they beat Klay Thompson – who also felt it with three three-pointers in the third quarter – by the nine-minute mark.

That’s a total of six minutes in the crucial moment of the game without the red hot Splash brothers being on the pitch together. When the Splash Bros kicked off at the same time, the Warriors had all the momentum. The Celtics were on the ropes. And Kerr decided to play it safe and let her go.

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