Warriors

Why importance of Kuminga's health to Dubs can't be overstated

Warriors

Jonathan Kuminga dribbled downhill with his left hand before gathering himself and leaping off his left foot to land on his right, and finish his move with a dunk or layup. This was during pregame warm-ups Thursday night in Memphis, and the drill didn't end as intended. 

Kuminga rolled the outside of his right ankle and crashed to the court. He was able to limp off the floor on his own, but was ruled out before a much-anticipated matchup against the Grizzlies. Earlier in the day, Kuminga was listed as probable with a sprained left ankle.

The 20-year-old sure was missed in the Warriors' ugly 131-110 loss to the Grizzlies at FedExForum.

"Well, tonight, I thought there were plays right away where we didn't get into the ball," coach Steve Kerr said of the Warriors' defensive struggles after their 21-point loss. "We were really soft on the ball and not being the aggressor." 

Who on the Warriors is sure to always be an aggressive on-ball defender? Kuminga. Even when the coaches don't call for it, Kuminga consistently picks up players full court. Much of the time, that's the opposing team's best scorer. 

If anything, Kuminga can be overly aggressive at times. Kerr would have taken that against the Grizzlies, especially early on. 

Kerr surprised many with his starting lineup, which might have been affected by Kuminga being out. Golden State's lineup was extremely small against the Grizzlies. Klay Thompson, who stands 6-foot-7, was their biggest player, and he'll one day go down as a Hall of Fame shooting guard. On this night, he was a power forward. 

 

Thompson was joined by Steph Curry, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Draymond Green. What Kerr later deemed as getting "too cute" with the small-ball lineup was a group that got smoked out of the gates. The Grizzlies quickly raced out to a 5-0 lead. When they made it 13-3, the Warriors had fallen into a first-half double-digit deficit for the seventh straight game. 

And it got worse. Much worse. 

The Warriors went into the second quarter down 48-28. The 48 points are the most the Grizzlies have scored in the first quarter this season, and they were without star point guard Ja Morant. That also is the most first-quarter points the Warriors have allowed under Kerr, and the first time Golden State gave up 48 in the first quarter since 1983.

The starting five played a little under five minutes together in the first quarter and were outscored 24-12. They ended up playing 5:55 together. The Grizzlies outscored them 28-16, going 6 of 7 on 2-pointers and 5 of 7 on 3-pointers.

Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. feasted, playing the entire first quarter while scoring 11 points with two 3-pointers and four rebounds. On the night, he was a game-high plus-27 in plus/minus with 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers. There's a good chance Kuminga would have had his go at the 6-foot-10 stretch big man.

In the Warriors' first game this season against the Grizzlies, a 14-point Christmas Day win, Kuminga played just under 17 minutes off the bench and was a plus-21 after scoring seven points with four rebounds, three assists and a block. Though he was a minus-16 in the Warriors' last-second win over the Grizzlies a month later, Kuminga did start and score 13 points on 5 of 6 from the field, along with four assists, two rebounds and a block. 

Now, the Warriors come home to face the owners of the NBA's best record in the Milwaukee Bucks at 48-18 and the Phoenix Suns, who have won four straight and are three-and-a-half games ahead of the Warriors in the Western Conference's No. 4 seed. 

The Bucks on Thursday night beat the Brooklyn Nets by five without Giannis Antetokounmpo and with Khris Middleton putting up just 11 points. Bobby Portis had a game-high 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Brook Lopez had 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks, Jae Crowder had 11 rebounds off the bench and Grayson Allen scored 19 points. 

The Suns on Wednesday beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 132-101, one day after the Warriors lost to OKC, 137-128. Phoenix won't have Kevin Durant, but Devin Booker now has scored 35 or more points in four consecutive games after dropping 44 on the Thunder. Center Deandre Ayton was a plus-29 and over the last 12 games has averaged 19.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. 

 

"For him to go out at this point, especially with Andrew Wiggins out right now -- the athleticism, the ability to guard multiple positions as well, the rebounding -- this is going to be a tough one for the Warriors," NBC Sports Bay Area analyst and former Warrior Dorell Wright said Thursday of Kuminga on "Warriors Live."

Wiggins missed his 10th straight game Thursday because of a family matter and has been away from the Warriors for nearly a month. Gary Payton II is expected to be re-evaluated next week for his adductor issue and hasn't played since the Warriors dealt for him at the NBA trade deadline. Green is dealing with constant pain in his left hand, and Kevon Looney recently has popped up on the injury report with back soreness in the midst of playing 178 straight regular-season games. 

The first time Wiggins was out for a significant amount of time, Kuminga stepped up. He has been even better this time. 

When Wiggins missed 15 straight games due to an adductor injury and illnesses, Kuminga was available for the first 13 games and started two. In that span, he averaged 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on 23.4 minutes a night while shooting 52.9 percent. Since Wiggins took his leave of absence, Kuminga in nine games (four starts) averaged 14.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals, playing 25 minutes per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on threes.

His last game before going down in bizarre fashion was one of his best. Following a down performance in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kuminga started against the Thunder and scored 21 points in under 28 minutes on 8-of-11 shooting. 

RELATED: Another disastrous road trip exposes Warriors' harsh truths

X-Rays were negative on Kuminga's right ankle. Kerr didn't have an update when asked after the loss, but Kuminga did leave the arena in a walking boot. The last time Kuminga was in a boot earlier this season to a sprained right foot, the Warriors went 3-5 with wins over the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards, and losses to the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Suns, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. 

Golden State has 15 regular-season games to go. The Spurs and Houston Rockets are the only teams on the schedule that aren't in the hunt for the playoffs or play-in tournament. Another duel with the Grizzlies is on the docket eight days from now. 

Thanks to an 0-3 road trip after a 5-0 homestand, the Warriors now are 34-33. They have the same record as the two teams behind them, the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. The Warriors are both competing for an NBA championship and fighting to stay out of the play-in tourney. 

Their veteran core still can take them to a title. But they've never needed a 20-year-old more.

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