DENVER — The Warriors have been putting off the inevitable over the last week as Stephen Curry worked his way back from a foot injury that sidelined him for a month.
Curry, who came off the bench for the fourth consecutive game Sunday, previously said it was his decision to not start — one that he came to after watching Klay Thompson return earlier this season from injuries — so he didn’t have to sit for long periods of time between playing.
But as Curry put together another outstanding off-the-bench performance in Game 4 on Sunday, it’s clear that the eight-time All-Star is more than ready to be re-inserted back into the starting lineup.
And the Warriors, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, should seriously consider it, beginning with Game 5 on Wednesday.
After a slow start where he missed his first five shots, perhaps in part due to the fact he was put in earlier than expected with Klay Thompson running into early foul trouble, Curry scored a team-high 33 points, his second highest scoring performance of the postseason, while shooting 43.5% from the field in a 37 minutes, the most he’s played in the postseason yet.
Curry was especially clutch down the stretch, tallying 15 of the Warriors’ 32 fourth-quarter points. That includes a stepback jump shot that gave the Warriors a two-point lead with 1:21 remaining in the game.
“Everything I’ve been doing has been progressing in the right direction,” said Curry, who finished the third quarter and played the entire fourth without getting fatigued. “My wind was solid. So I’m excited about where I’m at and looking forward to the next game.”
Coach Steve Kerr said Curry was “very close” to being cleared to play without restrictions before Sunday’s game. His 37 minutes his — which Kerr said he was “perfectly comfortable”with — makes it clear that Curry has enough stamina to return to the starting five, which could happen as soon as Wednesday.
Before that happens, however, Kerr will have to make a very difficult decision: Who will Curry replace in the starting lineup?
The two likely options are breakout breakout star Jordan Poole or iron man Kevon Looney.
Poole has made a convincing argument to remain in the starting lineup as he’s been one of the Warriors’ most reliable scorers over the last seven weeks. He set a high standard in his first three playoff games, scoring a combined 86 points on an efficient 66.7% shooting over that span. But Poole struggled in Game 4 with the Nuggets’ stifling defense. He scored just 11 points — his lowest output his since Feb. 27 — on a shaky 3-of-10 shooting.
Moving Poole to the bench could impact the third-year guard’s confidence and rhythm, though he’d never admit that. After starting in place of the injured Thompson at the beginning of the season, Poole struggled when his role his changed with the three-time champions ‘return.
Meanwhile, Looney being moved out of the starting lineup would mean the Warriors are going to deploy their small-but-mighty three-guard lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green, to start the game. That lineup has proven to be effective in this series, though there’s still a concern about its defensive identity.