Warriors aren’t concerned about Klay Thompson, small-ball lineup

SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe some of the lust has worn off with us not picking nicknames out of a hat every five minutes, but Steve Kerr is far from concerned about the Warriors’ small-ball lineup of Steph Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green after two games in the Western Conference semifinals.

That group wowed everybody for its dominance in the Warriors’ first two games of their first-round series vs. the Denver Nuggets. That level of dominance faded as the series went on, especially in Game 3 and Game 4, and has been far from eye-popping against the Memphis Grizzlies so far through the first two games of the second round. As the Warriors’ offense struggled in their 106-101 Game 2 loss Tuesday night at FedExForum, the latest version of the Death Lineup was a minus-11 in the second half.

So, what has been the biggest difference? To Kerr it’s pretty simple.

“Our opponent,” he said Friday after Warriors practice at Chase Center. “It’s a different series, and I think every series presents its own challenges. This series, it’s really important we’re able to rebound and compete physically knowing how big and athletic Memphis is across the board.

“It’s a lineup we can absolutely play and can absolutely have success, but it’s not a 25-minute lineup.”

When asked if he’s still confident those five can succeed together sharing the court in this series, Kerr only needed one word: “Absolutely.”

The Warriors surprisingly have won the rebounding battle through the first two games by eight total boards. They also have dominated in the paint, scoring 20 more points than the Grizzlies.

Their defense deserves all the credit in the world, even with Ja Morant exploding for 47 points to carry the Grizzlies to a must-win in Game 2. In that Warriors loss, they held the Grizzlies to 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 31.1 percent from 3-point range. The Grizzlies shot 46.1 percent in the regular season and 35.3 percent from long distance. They ranked second in the NBA averaging 115.6 points per game.

Through two games this series against Golden State, Memphis is putting up 111 points per game and scored only 106 in its win. that was without Gary Payton IIoutside of the first three minutes in Game 2, and Green for the majority of the first quarter Tuesday night while essentially playing with one eye when he returned.

“I think our offense has been our defense’s biggest problem,” Green said Friday. “You look at the transition opportunities they’re getting off of bad shots and turnovers, and they shot 39 percent. You cut those in half, then they’re at 35 percent and everybody’s going crazy about how great the defense has been.

“I think our offense will help our defense more than anything else than we’ll do on the defensive end.”

Poole has had his big scoring nightdropping 31 points in the Warriors’ Game 1 win. Curry scored 24 points in that win and led the Warriors with 27 in their loss. Wiggins for the most part has been efficient on offense and has been huge on the glass, and though Draymond had a down game Tuesday with a stitched right eye, he continues to do all the little things that make him indispensable.

What has been missing is a flurry from Thompson.

With each of his first four games in the first round, the Splash Brother got better and better. He scored 19 points to start the series, then put up 21, 26 and 32 points the next three games. But in Game 5, he scored only 15 points while going 5-for-13 from the field and 1-for-6 on 3-point attempts. Those struggles have carried over to the semifinals, too.

So far, Thompson is averaging just 13.5 points and is shooting 28.9 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from deep. He has only attempted two free throws and has missed both. The positive news is, Kerr believes his shooting struggles don’t correlate to his previous two leg injuries or the fact that he played a season-high 41 minutes last game.

“No, there’s no concern about that,” Kerr said of any possible fatigue with Thompson. “There’s a reason why we ramped him up slowly back in January, and a reason why we didn’t play him in back-to-backs. We wanted to make sure we took our time with him. Our training staff feels great about where Klay is There’s no back-to-backs in the playoffs.

“I think the shooting stuff to me is not related to fatigue. I think everybody feels good about where Klay is.”

Following the Warriors’ Game 2 loss, Kerr expressed how he felt Thompson was forcing shots and the sharpshooter even admitted he didn’t like his shot selection after the Warriors’ Game 1 win where he struggled all game long before hitting the game-winning 3 -pointer in the final minute. He tried to play hero again from behind the line in the loss, but traveled and turned the ball over with the Warriors down by three and only 17.3 seconds remaining.

Prior to these past two games, the three-time NBA champion has been money in the playoffs. Up until this series, he had averaged 19.4 points per game in the postseason, shooting 44.5 percent from the field, 41.7 percent on 3-pointers and 84 percent from the free-throw line. The Warriors need that version of Klay to show up Saturday night at Chase Center, and they don’t sound too concerned that this latest version is here to stay.

The truth is, he was far from the only Warrior who went ice-cold to the tune of a five-point loss in Memphis. The Warriors kept trying to throw up dagger shots from start to finish, and that strategy wasn’t working. They shot 42.1 percent from the field and an ungodly 18.4 percent on 38 3-point attempts. Curry, Thompson and Poole, who now might as well be the third Splash Brother only much younger, went 6-for-29 when tossing up 3-pointers.

Wiggins was 1-for-7.

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Thompson is playing his most intense style of basketball in almost three years. There aren’t back-to-backs in the playoffs, but everything is ramped up and he was listed as questionable going into Game 2 after Enemy No. 1 Dillon Brooks barreled into his right leg/knee in the final minute of the series opener with the two fighting for a loose ball.

He isn’t the only Warrior who has to be under more control offensively in Game 3. All parts of the small-ball lineup has to get back to whipping the ball around the floor, attacking the hoop and hitting open 3-pointers.

Coming home and getting multiple days of rest only helps Klay and multiple other Warriors. Counting him out in the past has been a terrible idea, and the same goes for the present. I know the Warriors need him, and it feels like we’re just waiting for a Saturday night show to go down in San Francisco.

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