Warriors’ closing lineup questions will be front-and-center in playoffs

Questions surround the Warriors as they prepare for their grand playoff re-entrance.

One of the biggest questions was answered Friday when head coach Steve Kerr listed Steph Curry as likely to play for Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets. Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a bone bruise and sprained ligament in his left foot.

With one question answered, the attention turned to perhaps the biggest conundrum on Kerr’s plate: Who will close games for the Warriors?

There’s no doubt Curry and Draymond Green will be on the floor. Kerr has Sharpied in Klay Thompson to that closing lineup as well. Most assume Andrew Wiggins will get one of the five coveted spots. Could one go to Jordan Poole? What about Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala or Otto Porter Jr.?

Who the Warriors trust alongside the dynastic core in the tensest moment very well could determine if their playoff trip extends until June or crashes in a week or two.

For Kerr, it’s a fluid situation.

“I think the players know that, for sure,” Kerr told reporters Friday when asked if players were aware of the competition for the closing unit. “They feel that. It’s playoff time. So you throw everything out the window. Whoever is playing the best, whatever group is playing the best will finish the game. So, then the next game starts, and it could be different from the following one. It’s up to everybody to not only accept that but to embrace it in the spirit of just winning the damn game.”

Poole started the season in the starting lineup, keeping Thompson’s place warm. Then, I shifted into a Sixth Man role only to jump back into the starting lineup when Curry went down with a foot injury. Poole was sensational down the stretch with Curry sidelined, averaging 25.8 points over the team’s final 12 games.

With Curry back, Poole could return to the bench. Kerr, however, wouldn’t reveal his starting lineup for Saturday’s Game 1. None of that matters to Poole, who is ready for his first taste of playoff basketball.

“As long as I’m making an impact to help our team win and lead us to however far we can go, I’m excited for it,” Poole said Friday. “Whatever opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready to step up and help this team in any way they need.

“I think our entire season we have had healthy competition and it’s bettered us as players and helped us rise to the level we were at the beginning of the year and up to now,” Poole continued discussing the closing lineup competition. “I know everybody on our team is capable of helping us close a game, win a game. The vets talked about it, coach talked about it and they know that we are going to need every single person on our roster to win a game. Whoever has that opportunity, or whenever it presents itself, I think we are all ready to step into those shoes.”

Even with Curry returning, Poole will get 30-to-35 minutes a game and already has shown he plays well slotting in alongside Curry.

“No doubt,” Kerr said when asked if he could run the same stuff with Curry and Poole on the floor together. “Most of the stuff we run is conceptual anyway. We don’t call a ton of plays we’re kind of playing out of concepts. Draymond is often the fulcrum offensively in the high pick-and-roll, dribble hand-offs. Jordan has really had a great apprenticeship learning from Steph and being a threat both on and off the ball.

“They are both very comfortable playing that style.”

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As for Wiggins, whose inconsistent play will have him under the microscope this postseason, he trusts Kerr to make the right lineup choices when it’s winning time.

“At this point, all you want to do is win. All you can do is trust that the coaches are going to make the best decisions to win the game.”

Injuries forced the Warriors to enter the playoffs without knowing what their best lineup combinations are. Kerr will have to experiment on the fly and be willing to alter his plan at a moment’s notice if things aren’t working.

The Warriors’ four-man lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, and Wiggins has been one of the best in the NBA by net rating this season. Those four haven’t been on the floor with Green yet. That’s a lineup Kerr surely will use at some point.

It’s a lineup with a ton of firepower, and one Thompson is geeked to be part of.

“Oh man, it’s so exciting,” Thompson said Thursday when asked about playing with Curry, Poole and Wiggins. “I just tell myself let’s get great shots. Who cares who leads the team in scoring? Who cares who makes the most threes? At the end of the season, and down the line, all that matters is if you won or not. Even for me, I led the playoffs in points one season, but that season ended up being the hardest because we blew a 3-1 lead, only time in NBA history in the Finals.
collectively, and let’s go out there and get the win.

“Points leaders, rebound leaders, that’s cool. We just want to win.”

This postseason will be the ultimate chemistry experiment for the Warriors. One that could end in another bay parade or blow up in their face.

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