How Jonathan Kuminga and Jordan Poole can lift a fatigued Warriors team
Steve Kerr’s voice was clear. His pleas heard loud enough for those seated behind the Warriors bench at FedEx Forum to hear.
“Shoot the ball!”
Kerr’s cries were directed at Jonathan Kuminga — who the Memphis Grizzlies left wide open with the ball from 3. With no option for a pass for a better look, Kuminga took Kerr’s advice and shot the ball from the top-left wing and hit it.
Kuminga went 3-for-3 from 3 in the first half and 4-for-7 overall and scored a team-high 24 points to keep afloat a noticeably fatigued Warriors team in Memphis. Though for all his efforts, the Warriors lost their 11th straight road game, 133-119, on Saturday night. But the 20-year-old’s performance provided a glimpse of what could be.
The Warriors lack of size and defensive versatility without Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II is having a direct impact on their road woes. Opponents are shooting the lights out from 3 when the Warriors come to town — the Grizzlies shot 47% on Saturday — in part because the small Warriors roster has to over-compensate on offense.
Kuminga is one of few left who can add size and athleticism. He’d certainly be a rotational mainstay if he makes opposing defenses pay for keeping him open from 3 like he did in Memphis.
Not only that, but Kuminga provided the energy to lift a fatigued core on the back-half of a back-to-back; Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, in particular, looked drained recently with a collective 12 turnovers in Friday’s loss and slow scoring nights on Saturday. That was most evident with his eight rebounds.
“That was the biggest thing. That’s the thing that we’re looking for all the time,” Kerr said. “He had eight rebounds tonight, three offensive. If he adds that to his game consistently, it’ll change everything for him, so we’re going to stay on him about that. He’s a young guy, so he’s learning so much every single day and he’s making strides. So, I’m very happy with his development.”
Draymond Green’s encouragement after Kuminga bobbled the ball on a fastbreak led to Kuminga drawn foul off an attempted put-back dunk. His two free throws cut the Grizzlies 14-point lead at the frame’s startdown to 104-100 at the end of the third quarter.
“Who cares? Everyone bobbles the ball,” Green said. “I think emotionally, that’s always a different hurdle to
get over than necessarily playing on the court. It usually takes you a little longer to grow emotionally than it does from a skill perspective. You expect them to keep growing there, and I know he will, but you also can appreciate the competitiveness, a guy wanting to do everything right. Can’t knock that, that second time, like I told him. You can’t allow it to take you off your square.”
A Warriors’ attempt to erase a 15-point deficit wouldn’t have been possible without Jordan Poole. The young guard who has struggled all season to find his rhythm on offense enough to overcome his lapses on defense.
Poole scored 21 points, including 17-points in the big third quarter. He did it by challenging the Memphis defense in the paint and went to the free throw line nine times over a few minutes.
“I want to say I attacked a couple matchups, the coaches allowed me to be aggressive today,” Poole said. “A bit more of an opportunity so just try to keep our team in the game, we got pretty close.”
A more decisive Poole and Kuminga on offense could help the Warriors tremendously on the final two games of this road trip. They’ll head to Houston and Dallas with hopes not only to stop their road-loss streak, but lift themselves out of the play-in spot before the 10 remaining games are up.