SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors face a tall task replacing Gary Payton II, who started both games of this semifinal in Memphis. Penciling in rookie Jonathan Kuminga into the starting lineup is the Warriors’ counter.
Kuminga, at age 19, is the youngest NBA player to start a playoff game since starting lineups were officially tracked in the 1970-71 season, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Kuminga’s minutes had been increasing during this series. After averaging six minutes in four games against the Denver Nuggets, Kuminga is averaging 15 minutes per game against the Grizzlies because he matches up well with Memphis’ athleticism.
“With guys like (Brandon) Clarke and (Jaren) Jackson Jr., they are super athletic along their front lines,” head coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “He’s had several plays where he’s played behind the defense in the dunker spot and got a couple of lobs from Draymond (Green). He’s finished some plays for us. Memphis is a very good defensive team. They fly around and you need guys that can finish quickly and he’s one of them.”
With the series evened 1-1, Memphis center Steven Adams is back in action from health and safety protocols but not starting. The Warriors decided to go with athleticism instead of size to begin Game 3 on Saturday at Chase Center. Here’s the lineup:
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are starting:
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Payton is a strong point-of-attack defender and was the Warriors’ best option to take on Ja Morant. With Payton now sideline with an elbow fracture sustained on a hard foul by Dillon Brooks in Game 2, the Warriors are scrambling to come up with some answers to contain the Grizzlies star.
Kuminga might get twisted up on defense, but he adds a unique vertical scoring dynamic and matches up fine against a relatively undisciplined Memphis defense. He’s getting the starting nod over Poole, who started all five games in the first round against Denver but has been coming off the bench against the Grizzlies, and over center Kevon Looney, who started 80 games in the regular season.
Payton’s absence will likely open up the rotation beyond Kuminga, too. Damion Lee saw non-garbage playing time in Payton’s absence in Game 2 and Looney could see his playing time increase, staggering with Green.
For his Flagrant 2 foul against Payton, Brooks was suspended for Game 3. Brooks was the primary defender on Steph Curry, but guard D’Anthony Melton has played strong defense against the Warriors star, too.
With Brooks suspended, Memphis is also starting a rookie in Williams, who attended Stanford for his lone collegiate year. The Grizzlies took Williams with the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft — three picks after the Warriors took Kuminga.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism