Stephen Curry isn’t 100 percent. He grimaces every time he lands on his injured tailbone, gingerly making his way back up the court with his hand pressed against his lower back like an old millworker at the end of another shift. But he’s battling, because the Warriors are dead without him.
On Tuesday, Curry poured in 41 points on 14-of-21 shooting, including 5 of 10 from 3, as Golden State halted a three-game losing streak with a 122-121 victory against the Bucks, who, it should be noted, were playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo. Curry, who entered the game with a league-best 196 made 3s so far, has now splashed at least 200 triples in an NBA record eight different seasons.
The Warriors currently find themselves stuck between two mostly incompatible agendas: They want to win now, but they also want to develop rookie James Wiseman, and save Curry’s legs to whatever extent possible, for next season. With Wiseman, that means allowing him to play, particularly during high-leverage minutes, through mistakes. Sometimes Kerr does that, but most times he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, broach the subject of Curry’s rigid minutes schedule and watch Warriors Twitter explode. Save for an exception here or there, Kerr basically refuses to “chase wins” by pushing Curry even one minute beyond his predetermined workload, which calls for Curry, give or take, to return for his final stretch at the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
It has potentially cost the Warriors multiple games. On Sunday against Atlanta, Kerr had a dead-ball opportunity to bring Curry back at 7:27 mark of the fourth quarter. At the time, the Warriors were up by one. Kerr kept him out another minute, and in that time the Warriors lost six points — the exact margin by which they lost the game.
Tuesday was one of the exceptions. Kerr, perhaps sensing this was a game the Warriors desperately needed, reinserted Curry with 8:09 remaining and the Warriors trailing by nine. They won the final eight minutes by 10, with Curry scoring 11 of his 41 in money time.
When you’re walking the razor-thin margin the Warriors are, you need every minute — and certainly every point — you can get from Curry. All told, he played 38 minutes on Tuesday, just over four more than his 33.8 average for the season. Will Kerr be willing to repeat this strategy as necessary down the stretch run of the season, or was this indeed a special case because of a break in the schedule?
Whether Kerr pushes Curry a little bit extra down the stretch, even when the schedule doesn’t line up, could be the difference between the Warriors — who are currently 10th in the West and only one game up in the loss column on No. 11 New Orleans — sneaking into one of the two play-in series and ending up in the lottery.