BOSTON — The Celtics are young, long and athletic, and en route to a 2-1 lead in these NBA Finals, they made the Warriors look downright old.
The Warriors won Game 2 with the strength of an old man – that skillfully placed weight that surprises a young and inexperienced team.
But the Celtics responded by beating the Dubs every way they could in Game 3.
There were moments — flashes of the Warriors matching Boston’s impressive running and jumping ability, but those moments were too far apart.
There is one obvious decision for the Warriors ahead of Game 4 on Friday:
Countering youth with youth.
Specifically, play Jonathan Kuminga.
In fact, I would start it.
The 19-year-old winger would be the best athlete on the pitch for either team if he plays any meaningful minutes in this streak. He’s only played seven – all with the game in hand – in those finals, but there are multiple opportunities to get him into Game 4.
But the best option would be the earliest: Kuminga starts in place of Kevon Looney.
Now, the Warriors’ starting center has been absolutely fantastic in this series and the playoffs, and the Warriors should play him more – he missed the entire fourth quarter of Game 3 to the detriment of Golden State – but as he establishes brilliant choices, it is limited on the roll. And the Warriors need to run a pick-and-roll on every offensive possession in Game 4.
Kuminga isn’t Looney’s pick-setter, but he’s effective. And he’s the only effective rim runner for the Warriors.
Golden State was outplayed in the paint in Games 1 and 3 — both games that Boston center Robert Williams looked healthy.
The Time Lord shields the hoop from the timer downwards, such is its length and jumping ability when its recalcitrant knee cooperates.
As such, the Warriors are petrified of going into the paint when he’s down.
You can’t win a title if you can’t go to the basket. All of these critics of “jump shooting teams” have that right.
Want to set the tone that this series changed early on? Run Kuminga-Curry pick-and-roll for the first three games of the game and see if the young high-flyer can put Williams on a poster.
After Game 3, Klay Thompson said there were 2015 vibes at these Finals. The Warriors also lost 2-1 in this series to the Cavs.
What changed the series?
Yes, the Warriors benched Andrew Bogut and started Andre Iguodala instead, but really it was Curry running the pick-and-roll with David Lee starting in Game 4. (Remember him ?)
Much like Lee, Kuminga is going to be a defensive liability – he fouls way too many times. What do you expect from a 19 year old?
But that’s why Kuminga should start instead of coming off the bench like Lee. If that experiment doesn’t work — and there’s no way of knowing if it will — Warriors coach Steve Kerr can limit the damage, call it a loss, and still have 45 minutes of basketball left to play.
If it works, it sets the tone for the rest of the game and maybe the series.
Kerr, of course, doesn’t shake her hand.
“It’s always a possibility. You never exclude anything. It’s something we discuss every day as a team,” Kerr said Thursday. “Do we need to insert another player into the rotation? Do we need to change a combination, a composition combination?
“It’s all discussed, and we just make the best decision we think can be made and roll with it.”
There are other ways for the Warriors to insert Kuminga aside from starting.
Kerr could opt to play Kuminga instead of Nemanja Bjelica, who was solid in Game 2, mediocre in Game 3, and is usually a wild card due to his poor defense.
But that would put Kuminga with second unit, which has been a problem for the Dubs against Boston. They have no room to maneuver and Kuminga – like Bjelica – offers no guarantees to play well.
The Warriors could also try to match Kuminga with a Celtics player.
Kuminga would be best used as a small ball center. When the Celtics go with Al Horford at five, Kuminga could provide an interesting foil to Boston’s oldest player. Give the Celtics a taste of their own medicine – if only at one position for a few moments.
But given the Warriors’ struggles in the half court this series, a more drastic decision is needed. The Warriors need to shake up this series and they need to do it early.
They need to start Kuminga.