SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Kerr had a big decision to make before Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals at Chase Center against the Memphis Grizzlies. Who replaces Gary Payton II in the starting lineup?
He surprised us all and decided to start rookie power forward Jonathan Kuminga, who joins Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green.
The 19-year-old played 14 minutes off the bench in the Warriors' Game 2 loss. He scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and made all three of his free throws. Kuminga also played over 15 minutes in their Game 1 win, scoring six points to go with six rebounds, one assist and one steal.
At 19 years and 213 days old, Kuminga, according to ESPN Stats & Info, became the youngest player to start a playoff game since starters were officially tracked in the 1970-71 NBA season.
Kuminga played sparingly in the first round against the Denver Nuggets, but his role was expected to increase once the Warriors were set to face the young and athletic Grizzlies. The Warriors don't need him to put up huge numbers, though his ability to run the floor, rebound and guard multiple positions will be key for the Warriors to slow down Ja Morant and the rest of Memphis' attack.
He appeared in two of the Warriors' four regular-season games against the Grizzlies, one win and one loss. In their Dec. 23 win, Kuminga played 11 minutes off the bench, finishing with six points and two rebounds. He started for the Warriors when they were without multiple stars in their blowout loss on March 8, playing over 34 minutes. Kuminga scored 15 points with extended minutes, and also added seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal.
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Payton fractured his left elbow in the first three minutes of Golden State's Game 2 loss after being hit in the head from behind by Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks while in mid-air. Brooks was given a Flagrant 2 foul and automatic ejection. He was suspended for Saturday night's Game 3 contest two days later. Payton almost airballed his first free throw attempt, but made his second before heading to the Warriors' locker room for X-rays.
Payton is expected to miss at least the next three-to-five weeks.