The Golden State Warriors tiptoed back from the brink after Stephen Curry narrowly avoided joining Chris Webber in the annals of timeout infamy.
Curry signaled for a timeout because he was facing a double team in the backcourt from Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell and Harrison Barnes with Golden State clinging to a 126-121 lead at Chase Center in San Francisco. There were just 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock, and Curry was at risk of a backcourt violation if he didn’t advance the ball past half court in the next two seconds. When Curry was trapped, Golden State’s other four players were covered on the far side of the court, giving him no easy passing options.
“I don’t ever want to blame Steph,” forward Draymond Green said. “I’m supposed to trail the play and not leave him on an island, and I left him on an island.”
As soon as the timeout was given, Kerr clutched his head in disbelief, knowing the Warriors would be penalized with a technical foul and a loss of possession. Kerr later took responsibility for the blunder, noting that the Warriors need to “handle the [backcourt] pressure better” but that he had forgotten to remind his team of its timeout situation.
“When the challenge was unsuccessful, as we were exiting the huddle, it’s on me,” Kerr said. “I’ve got to remind the guys [that] we’re out of timeouts. I didn’t say that, and so Steph wasn’t aware. That’s on me for not making that clear. … The timeout is 100 percent on me.”
Kings guard Malik Monk converted the free throw to cut the Warriors’ lead to four, and De’Aaron Fox drained a three-pointer on Sacramento’s subsequent possession to make it 126-125 with 28.7 seconds left.
Suddenly facing a one-possession game and still without any timeouts, Curry missed a midrange jumper on Golden State’s next possession. The Kings gathered the rebound, called a timeout and set up a potential game-winning shot.
“I wanted to make sure we were spaced right and aligned right to be able to get a good look,” Kings Coach Mike Brown said, explaining his decision to call a timeout before the final play. “I felt they were going to keep basically the same guys on the floor because they are veterans and they have won a lot of championships with those guys on the floor. I thought we’d be able to get a good look, and we did. We got a good look.”
Fox, who finished with a game-high 38 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists, attacked from the top of the key, drew two defenders and passed to Barnes on the left wing. Barnes, a member of the Warriors’ 2015 title team, launched a three-pointer at the buzzer that rimmed off.
“We wanted to get the ball out of Fox’s hands and try to get back to wherever the shooter was going to be,” Kerr said. “In that case it was Harrison, and he got a good look. These games are coming down to the wire, and you’ve just got to really finish possessions and try to give yourself the best chance. Sometimes it’s just does the ball go in or not.”
If the shot had fallen, the upstart Kings would have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead over the defending champions. Instead, the series is tied at 2 and returns to Sacramento for Wednesday’s Game 5.
Curry scored a team-high 32 points and added five rebounds and four assists before his late-game misadventures, which recalled Webber’s infamous timeout mistake during the 1993 NCAA men’s tournament championship game. Webber, then a star at Michigan, called a timeout that the Wolverines didn’t have with his team trailing by two and 11 seconds left. North Carolina went on to win, 77-71.
“I didn’t realize when we lost the challenge that we didn’t have any timeouts left,” Curry said. “I know Coach mentioned that he took the blame for it. I ain’t going to lie: I thought it was the smartest play in the world when I got the ball, turned around and saw the trap. I realized there was no real outlets, so instead of turning it over, [taking a timeout] is kind of the heady play. But it turned out not to be. I looked over at the bench, and everybody was shaking their head. It was an unfortunate situation in that respect but good learning lesson. Thankfully we came away with the win.”