The Warriors let a potential win in Minnesota slip away as Steph Curry rests in crunch time

MINNEAPOLIS — The Golden State Warriors entered the fourth quarter Sunday night in Minneapolis with a 3-point lead. Steph Curry's minutes total reached 23, after he was rested for the final 4:07 of the third quarter. Two nights ago, in a similar substitution pattern, Steve Kerr played Curry the entirety of Game 4, bringing his total to 35.

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

But the Minnesota Timberwolves quickly turned the score around, adding more urgency. The first four possessions were a Trayce Jackson-Davis turnover, Nickeil Alexander-Walker made a 3, an Andrew Wiggins turnover and Monte Morris made a 3. Minnesota went from 3 points down to 3 in 57 seconds.

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

It was identified as the likely moment for Curry's entrance. The final 8:56 would have put him right at 32 minutes, his usual conservative rate. Curry admitted he was “a little” surprised his number wasn't called at that point, considering the circumstances of the game and this stuttering season.

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

The curry will rest for an additional 2 minutes. In that period, the Warriors' score increased from 4 points to 8 points. When Curry returned at 6:54 in the fourth quarter, after another timeout, he was down 97-89.

They eventually lost 114-110. The curry will be over in just 29 minutes and 51 seconds. In that game, the Warriors beat the Timberwolves by 6 points. In more than 18 minutes he spent on the bench, they led by 10 points.

“We're trying to keep him around 30 and give him as much rest as we can,” Kerr said. “He played a lot of minutes with him, he played 35 minutes with him two days ago. As long as we were there, we wanted to limit the minutes a little bit. Don't put limits on them, but don't overestimate him.”

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It's impossible to know if Curry's two extra minutes on the bench would have changed the outcome, and at this point, a win over the Timberwolves is unlikely to change the Warriors' playoff fate. They are a long way from eighth place (five games) for a single win or loss. But it's the latest misfire and narrow loss in a season full of them.

“No,” Kerr said when asked if the extra two-minute curry break cost them. “We have Chris Paul there. We have Klay (Thompson). We have Draymond (Green). We have great players there. We can't expect Steph to just ride game after game after game. The last few weeks have been very difficult for him. We've put the burden on 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 playing 30 minutes instead of 32 is the difference in winning or losing, then I disagree. “Just that. We're trying to win the game. We're trying to keep him fresh.”

The Warriors have 12 games remaining. They can still catch the Los Angeles Lakers for ninth place. They are at risk of running from behind. The Houston Rockets play one match out of 10, and the two teams will play face-to-face on April 4 in Houston. Is it realistic for the Warriors to keep Curry in the 30-minute range and still accumulate enough wins and momentum to make the kind of postseason noise they claim they believe they are capable of?

“The situation will define itself very clearly,” Carey said. “It's real time. Every play matters.” We're slowly approaching the other end of the standings where we never thought we'd be. No one is going to wave a white flag and mail it. “If it means playing more minutes, I'll be willing to do it.”

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 recorded nine turnovers and 18 points (only 6 in the paint) in the first quarter. The Timberwolves had just 46 in the first half. Kerr praised the team's level of effort.

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But collapses occurred frequently in the second half. Too often, they mixed up the switches on the perimeter and made players leave the wrong shooter. They allowed Anthony Edwards to shine for an open wing 3 with six minutes left. They allowed Conley into an open 3 with three minutes left in the game. They gave up 68 points in the second half.

“I don't think we have great habits,” Draymond Green said, later adding: “We're a very quiet team.”

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

Kerr identified the problem as a lack of effort in transition. His coaching staff tells players to either crash the offensive glass or run back. If they don't, they refer to it as a “residence.” He said they had too many “stays,” which directly led to another frustrating house loss.

“This is on us as coaches. We have to be able to get that message across. It's a team effort. We have to find a way to get it to our guys.”

Curry was perhaps the Pacers' most egregious offender. He ran back in transition on one of the biggest possessions of the game, allowing Andrew Nembhard to run behind him for an uncontested layup in prime time.

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“As a player, you know when you make mistakes and make 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 hard to watch.”

The Warriors were in a hurry to get out of snow-covered Minneapolis on Sunday night. The rest of the flight is warmer. But more challenges lie ahead. Florida will face back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday nights against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, both teams with strong defenses. Orlando is 25-10 at home this season.

So it's fair to wonder if this Warriors' downward spiral could knock them out of the 10th seed entirely by the end of the week. The Rockets will face the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

“The NBA is a weird league,” Curry said. “It only takes a little spark to go off. You see what Houston is doing right now. They've got one little spark and they've gone 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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(Photo of Stephen Curry and Rudy Gobert: Brad Rempel/USA Today)

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