SAN FRANCISCO — Both Steve Kerr and Mike Brown opted to use Wednesday night as a regular season dress rehearsal, pushing their big-name regulars past 30 minutes and setting up some rare late-game preseason drama. The Kings, protecting a 10-point lead in the final five minutes, pinned their starters up against a Warriors closing lineup of Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Dario Šarić.
This was a no-stakes chance for Paul and the Warriors to get crunch-time reps together before the real thing tips off on Tuesday. Paul and Curry controlled the action late. Thompson, Wiggins and Šarić spaced the floor, while the combo point guards shot the Warriors into a surprising comeback win: 116-115 on this game-winning 3 from Curry with five seconds left.
Preseason game-winner. Steph Curry wing 3 with five seconds left to beat the Kings by one. It gave him 30 points. Eight 3s. Warriors came back from 10 down in final five minutes. Here is the play and crowd reaction. pic.twitter.com/sDvaZR3CVz
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 19, 2023
Paul, as you can see in the clip, is the inbounder. There was nothing spectacular from him on this particular play. He just let the traffic clear and tossed it over to Curry, who created space with his lightning bolt of a stepback and then stuck the 3. But it’s Paul’s presence as the inbounder that is another early sign of Kerr’s immediate and immense trust in Paul, making it extremely likely that Paul will open the season as a regular in the closing lineup even if he isn’t a regular in the starting lineup.
“It’s just fun to see Chris get us organized,” Kerr said. “He, I think, makes Steph’s off-ball stuff better.”
Kerr mentioned one possession in particular. Opponents like to top-lock Curry and Thompson, overplaying them and denying easy access to passes on the perimeter. That’s jammed up their flow and created some trouble for the Warriors in recent seasons, particularly in the playoffs. On this possession, Curry sprung free from a top-lock and Paul pinged it over to him in his shooting pocket.
“Chris got him the ball perfect, in perfect rhythm,” Kerr said. “He’s been doing this forever.”
Paul didn’t start on Wednesday night. Kerr made the choice to test some new lineup combinations. It was done, in part, to get Paul paired up with Šarić and some of the groups that will make the most regular season sense when Curry sits. The Warriors want to slow the game down when Paul is the lone point guard, allowing him to run methodical pick-and-roll.
In his first two preseason games — and even on occasion against the Kings — Paul has made it a point to fit into the Warriors’ quicker, flowing style. It has led to some jagged results. Paul has 10 turnovers in three games. The Warriors had 22 total on Wednesday night. That category, identified as a must-fix issue by Kerr, is still a work in progress.
Paul and Šarić connected on a few successful pick-and-roll possessions against the Kings. Paul also dialed his own number late in a key moment. During that frantic 10-point comeback in the final five minutes, he curled off a double screen from Curry and then Šarić and glided into an elbow mid-range jumper over Domantas Sabonis to cut the Kings lead to five.
“I told him we need him to be himself,” Kerr said. “He’s trying to fit in. Sometimes we need him to go take four mid-range jumpers in a row.”
These are Paul-centered actions that will quickly become part of the Warriors’ playbook. Check out this possession from the end of the first half. It is a missed 3 from Wiggins in the corner, but it’s a well-executed Šarić and Curry staggered screen for Paul that sets up a wide-open pristine look in the half court.
Paul may not come off the bench in Friday’s preseason finale against the Spurs. Kerr said he would trim down the starter’s minutes and test a new set of combinations. It’s clear that he plans to mix and match and will likely do that into the regular season.
Kevon Looney felt ill on Wednesday morning, missing the game and leading Kerr to start Trayce Jackson-Davis, the older rookie who held his own well against Sabonis and provided some interior bulk and vertical spacing that is mostly lacking on this smaller roster. Jackson-Davis even threw down a lob from Klay Thompson.
Kuminga started but Šarić closed, another notable rotation item from Wednesday’s dress rehearsal. Kerr continues to praise Šarić, saying postgame that Šarić will “change our team.”
(Photo of Stephen Curry and Chris Paul: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)