Minnesota Edges out Warriors as Curry Takes Break: A Crucial Loss for Golden State

MINNEAPOLIS — The Golden State Warriors entered the fourth quarter Sunday night in Minneapolis up 3 points. Steph Curry’s minute total stood at a reasonable 23, having rested the final 4:07 of the third quarter. Two nights earlier, on a similar substitution pattern, Steve Kerr played Curry the entire fourth, upping his total to 35.

It’s clear Kerr, Rick Celebrini and the Warriors’ decision-makers didn’t want to repeat that amount. It’s the beginning of a compact road trip. They’ve preferred to keep Curry down in the 32-minute range most nights. So Curry sat to open the fourth quarter.

But the Minnesota Timberwolves flipped the score quickly, upping the urgency. The first four possessions went Trayce Jackson-Davis turnover, Nickeil Alexander-Walker made 3, Andrew Wiggins turnover, Monte Morris made 3. Minnesota went from down 3 points to up 3 in 57 seconds.

Kerr let the situation ride a bit. They got a Brandin Podziemski made 3 and Chris Paul midranger to temporarily stabilize. But a Rudy Gobert dunk, Paul turnover and Mike Conley layup put the Timberwolves up four with 8:56 left. The Warriors called timeout.

It profiled as the likely moment Curry would enter. The final 8:56 would’ve put him right at 32 minutes, his typical conservative amount. Curry admitted he was “a little bit” surprised his number wasn’t called at that point, considering the circumstance of both the game and this slipping season.

“I want to play as many minutes as I’m fresh and able to,” Curry said.

Curry would rest an extra two minutes. In that time frame, the Warriors’ deficit moved from 4 points to 8 points. When Curry returned at the 6:54 mark of the fourth quarter, following another timeout, they were down 97-89.

They’d ultimately lose 114-110. Curry would finish at only 29 minutes and 51 seconds. In that court time, the Warriors outscored the Timberwolves by 6 points. In his more than 18 minutes on the bench, they were outscored by 10 points.

“We’re trying to keep him around 30, get him as much rest as we can,” Kerr said. “Played him a lot of minutes, played him 35 two days ago. As long as we were hanging in there, we wanted to limit the minutes a little bit. Not limit them, but not overplay him.”

It’s impossible to know whether Curry’s two extra minutes on the bench would’ve changed the result and, at this point, it’s unlikely that a win over the Timberwolves would change the Warriors’ Play-In fate. They’re too far out of the eighth spot (five games) for one win or loss to swing it. But it’s the latest misfire and narrow loss in a season full of them.

“No,” Kerr said when asked if that two-minute extra Curry rest cost them. “We’ve got Chris Paul out there. We’ve got Klay (Thompson). We’ve got Draymond (Green). We’ve got great players out there. We can’t expect to just ride Steph game after game after game. These last few weeks have been really tough on him. We’ve put the burden of this franchise on his shoulders for 15 years. We can’t expect him to play 35 minutes. We have five games in seven days on this road trip. If you want to say that him playing 30 minutes instead of 32 is the difference in the win or the loss, I totally disagree with that. We’re trying to win the game. We’re trying to keep him fresh.

The Warriors have 12 games left. They could still catch the Los Angeles Lakers for the ninth spot. They are in danger of getting run down from behind. The Houston Rockets are one game out of 10th and the two play head-to-head on April 4 in Houston. Is it realistic for the Warriors to keep Curry in the 30-minute range and still gather enough wins and momentum to make the type of postseason noise they maintain they believe they can?

“The situation will define itself pretty clearly,” Curry said. “It is in real time. Every game matters. We’re inching closer to the other end of the standings that we never thought we’d be in. Nobody’s gonna wave the white flag and mail it in. If that means playing more minutes, I’ll be ready to do that.”

Steph Curry: “The situation will define itself pretty clearly. It is in real time. Every game matters. We’re inching closer to the other end of the standings. Nobody’s gonna wave the white flag. If that means playing more minutes, I’ll be ready to do that.” pic.twitter.com/om2Mm8hZal

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 25, 2024

There were aspects of Sunday’s loss to the Timberwolves that were positive for the Warriors. They came out focused defensively and protected the rim well. Minnesota had nine turnovers and 18 points (only 6 in the paint) in the first quarter. The Timberwolves only had 46 in the first half. Kerr praised the team’s effort level.

But the breakdowns were too repetitive in the second half. Too often, they mixed up switches on the perimeter and had two players leave the wrong shooter. They let Anthony Edwards flare for an open wing 3 with six minutes left. They let Conley walk into an open 3 with three minutes left. They gave up 68 second-half points.

The decent defensive performance was a step in the right direction compared to the home loss to the Indiana Pacers two nights earlier. The Warriors spent nearly two hours Sunday at their hotel in Minnesota going over what Green called the “ugly” film.

Kerr pinpointed the problem as a lack of effort in transition. His coaching staff tells players to either crash the offensive glass or sprint back. If they don’t do either, they refer to it as a “stay.” He said they had far too many “stays,” which directly led to another demoralizing home loss.

“That’s on us as coaches. We have to be able to get that message across. It’s a group effort. We have to find a way to get it across to our guys.”

Steve Kerr showed the Warriors all their transition “stays” in loss to Pacers: “You don’t crash. You don’t get back. You just kind’ve stand there.”

There was a particularly egregious one in crunch time to give Nembhard a layup: “That was on there.” pic.twitter.com/frbJaSfX0o

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 24, 2024

Curry might’ve been the most egregious offender in the Pacers game. He jogged back in transition on one of the game’s biggest possessions, allowing Andrew Nembhard to fly past him for an uncontested layup in crunchtime.

“As a player, you know when you’re messing up and making mistakes,” Curry said. “Then you go watch the film and it’s 10 times worse. Every little play, we’re one step behind. It was play after play after play. It was difficult to watch.”

The Warriors were in a hurry to get out of snowy Minneapolis on Sunday night. The rest of the trip is warmer. But more challenges await. They have a Florida back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday nights against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, both playoff teams with sturdy defenses. Orlando is 25-10 at home this season.

So it’s fair to wonder whether this Warriors spiral could bump them out of the 10th seed entirely by the end of the week. The Rockets have the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

“The NBA is such a weird league,” Curry said. “It just takes one little spark to get yourself going. You see what Houston is doing right now. They got one little spark and they’ve run off eight, nine in a row. We’re capable of doing it. Until we run out of games, that’s the message.”

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