warrior vs.  Celtics: Steve Kerr sitting down Stephen Curry at the end of the third quarter may have cost Golden State Game 3

warrior vs. Celtics: Steve Kerr sitting down Stephen Curry at the end of the third quarter may have cost Golden State Game 3

warrior vs.  Celtics: Steve Kerr sitting down Stephen Curry at the end of the third quarter may have cost Golden State Game 3

Let’s say this up front: The Boston Celtics are a better team than the Golden State Warriors. I picked the Celtics in the beginning to win the series because they have an advantage, albeit a small advantage in some cases, in almost every facet of the game. Defensively, they’re bigger and more athletic, and that goes doubly for the offensive end, where they clubbed the Warriors to death with a 33 percent offensive rebound rate and a 26-point difference in paint scores in their Game 3 win.

The Celtics have multiple mismatches to sort out against smaller Golden State defenders, and can exploit Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and exploit, the inability of the Warriors to stay ahead of them. They go downhill when scoring themselves or pull help and kick to open 3-point shooters. It’s simple things, and if the Celtics keep it that way, i.e. don’t get too fancy and start beating themselves up with sloppy turnovers and ill-advised shots, they’ve shown they have a pretty solid handle on this matchup.

Golden State actually has one horse to ride.

His name is Stephen Curry.

Curry is the best player in this series. He looked like his old self, hitting shots from all over the field as the Warriors have gone almost exclusively for pick-and-roll offensive to control his hot hand and not mess with Boston’s off-ball alternating defense. Curry performs, and he did it again in the third quarter on Wednesday, when Golden State turned a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead in just over eight minutes at halftime.

It was a typical Curry flurry. Boston was reeling as the two-time MVP put in 15 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting in those eight minutes before Steve Kerr made the decision to bench him with 2:53 left in the third. There were two reasons Kerr did it: First, he wanted to give Curry a breather so he could play the entire fourth quarter. Second, Curry had four errors and Kerr didn’t want to risk picking up his fifth.

You don’t hear much about this decision. It wasn’t even mentioned in the postgame pressers. But I believe it was the wrong move, so much so that it might have cost Golden State the game.

Of course I can’t say that for sure. When Curry went to the bench, the Warriors were two behind, losing just two points in the last 2:53 to start the fourth quarter with four. But everything about the decision — protecting Curry from a fifth foul, giving him rest even though he had only played 27 minutes — was conservative, and it cooled the only upper hand Golden State has in this series.

Again, in the long run, Boston has the edge almost everywhere. But Curry standing on a stove can erase all that, and he did just that when Kerr threw water on the fire. There’s no doubt that Boston was glad Curry went to the bench, and every time you do something your opponent wants you to do, you’re not doing the right thing.

As Curry did, there’s a real chance that the Warriors, instead of going four behind, will lead by six or eight in the fourth quarter. Mentally it is a completely different situation for both parties. You also can’t just cool down a hot shooter and expect it to warm up again three minutes later. Curry opened the fourth quarter with a missed 3 and three turnovers, and the Warriors trailed nine in the first two minutes of the quarter.

Boston never looked back.

This series is discussed as being fairly equivalent, but increasingly this does not appear to be the case. The Warriors play uphill. Standing next to the Celtics, they are small and slow. And when you’re trying to win a fight against a bigger, faster opponent, it becomes imperative that you take a big hit when and if you get the chance.

The Warriors had that chance to finish the third quarter when they sat Curry, and to start the fourth when they took Klay Thompson—who also felt it with three third-quarter-3s—to the nine minutes.

That’s a total of six minutes, at the most crucial moment of the match, without the red-hot splash brothers on the field together. When the splash bros got it going at the same time, the Warriors had all the momentum. The Celtics were pulling the strings. And Kerr chose to play it safe and let them go.