Heartbreaker. An amazingly resilient performance by the Warriors on the Nuggets’ home floor, given the youth and playoff inexperience of their roster, and the loss of David Lee.
This was a difficult game for me to process. Some questions about how the two teams match up were answered. But just as many remain. Particularly given the fact that the Manimal, Kenneth Faried, is scheduled to return in game 2, which will alter the Nuggets’ look considerably. And it looks quite likely that the Warriors have lost the services of their all-star power forward.
Even setting aside Lee’s injury, this game probably represented the Warriors best chance to steal a game on the Nuggets’ home floor. I know the Nuggets are not the world’s best three point shooting team, but its unlikely we’ll see this nervous 3-16 (19%) shooting performance repeated. Especially since the Nuggets don’t take threes unless wide open, and the Warriors give them all the wide-open looks they could possibly want.
Could the Warriors have had a chance in this series if Lee doesn’t get injured and they steal this game? It’s hard for me to say that question was answered by what we saw in this game. Too many variables: Faried’s absence, the Nuggets’ shooting, Bogut’s ankle.
Andrew Bogut and the Nugget’s fast break: As predicted, the Nuggets tried to run Bogut off the court. And for awhile in the first quarter it looked a lot as if they would succeed. On the third play of the game, the Nuggets beat Bogut down court after a made basket for a Fournier layup. On the very next Nuggets possession, Chandler again beat Bogut (and Lee) downcourt, getting fouled at the rim. And at 4:20 1Q, as soon as Bogut came back in from a three minute rest, Javale McGee beat him down court for a dunk.
But remarkably to me, this became less and less of a problem as the game wore on. I never noticed him get beat again. The Warriors wound up holding the Nuggets to 15 fastbreak points, 5 below their league leading average of 20.
What happened? And can the Warriors, and particularly Bogut’s, performance against the Nuggets fast break be repeated?
Even setting aside the effect of David Lee’s injury for the moment, I think there are reasons to doubt this. The Nugget’s fastbreak was no doubt affected adversely by the absence of Kenneth Faried. The Warriors outrebounded the Nuggets by 10, and were particularly effective on the offensive glass, garnering 13, with Bogut contributing 5 on his own. This problem grabbing defensive boards made it tougher for the Nuggets to get out and run. Faried will help with that a lot when he returns.
And then there is the fact that Faried is one of the Nuggets’ most effective players on the fast break. He is terrific at beating big men down court and finishing.
And then there is the fact that the Nuggets tired badly in the fourth quarter of this game. I think that had a lot to do with Faried’s absence, which required them to play Nellieball right from the opening tip, and throughout the game.
And then there is the fact of Bogut’s health. He played what for him is extensive minutes in this game, 31. How well can he recover from that? He has stated recently that his ankle has good days and bad days, and it has obviously been killing him headed into this series. He gets 2 days of rest before the next game, but when the series comes to Oracle, the Warriors will play 3 games in 5 nights.
So while crediting Bogut for not getting run off the floor in this game, I’d like to reserve judgement on whether he can continue to get back on defense against the Nuggets, until we see what happens when Mr. Manimal takes the floor.
I prefer not to contemplate what happens if David Lee can’t play.
Andrew Bogut in half-court defense: This is where I potentially made the biggest blunder in my series forecast. I knew the Nuggets were reluctant to shoot from outside, and I knew that they would be relentless in attacking the rim. Which they were, right from the opening tip.
But what I didn’t know is that Bogut would stand up so well against the barrage. I anticipated difficulty moving side to side and serious foul trouble. Instead, Bogut delivered his best defensive performance in a Warriors uniform. 4 blocked shots, and countless others altered. Dominant rebounding.
Quickness, nimbleness, aggression, force. A flashback to earlier days.
The Manimal is getting set to return. Another ferocious rim-rocker added to the wave of Nuggets attackers.
Can Bogut continue to repel them?
Bogut on offense: The Warriors offense struggled badly in the first and third quarters, as it has so often with Bogut on the floor. And he himself was invisible.
But in the fourth quarter, the floor seemed to open up for Bogut and he delivered some big buckets.
Bogut in crunch time: Bogut’s fourth quarter play was pretty remarkable. Easily the best stretch of basketball he’s played this year.
- 7:35: Jack and Bogut complete a pick and roll! Back on defense, Bogut blocks a shot.
- 6:05: Bogut blocks Chandler
- 4:10: Bogut offensive rebound, then runs down a second long rebound on its way out of bounds and makes a remarkable slap save straight to Klay Thompson for a three.
- 3:15: Nicely designed play on the right box gets Bogut a left-handed jump hook.
- 2:15 Bogut finishes on a Jack assist.
- 1:00 Bogut’s presence turns away several consecutive Nuggets drives.
Stephen Curry: As I predicted, George Karl put a target on Stephen Curry’s back in this game. The Nuggets blitzed ferociously on the pick and roll, taking the ball out of Curry’s hands whenever he was the point guard.
And as I predicted, Curry struggled badly against the length of Iggy, Chandler and Brewer. Virtually all of Curry’s made threes were shot over Ty Lawson. Including the one that tied the game.
The Nuggets take away from Curry the best and easiest part of his game, which is the high pick. You don’t want Bogut setting that pick, because the Nuggets ultra-mobile big men will blitz, and Bogut is no threat to punish them when he receives the ball in the high post. When Lee set the pick in this game, Chandler blitzed, which is the worst of all worlds. And it’s virtually the same if you try to pick with Klay Thompson or Barnes: all you accomplish is a switch that results in Curry facing a longer, tougher defender.
After shooting 0-9 to start the game, Curry came alive, finishing 7 for his last 11, with most of his scoring coming off the ball. But I think it’s worth noting that by their own admission (Andre Miller’s post game interview), the Nuggets tired badly down the stretch. That may not occur again, at least to the same degree, after Faried comes back.
Curry’s in for a tough time in this series. Mark Jackson will have to get really creative to get him open looks.
By the way, did you happen to notice the play to end the first half? Mark Jackson ISO’D Curry at the top of the key against Ty Lawson. Perhaps Jackson has had second thoughts about the end of the Lakers game?
Unfortunately, despite what I think was supposed to be a 1-4 alignment (the other four Warriors spread out on the baseline), Klay Thompson drifted up court, bringing his defender, Andre Iguodala, into the way of Curry’s drive, resulting in a turnover.
I’d like to see more Curry iso’s against Lawson. He can beat him.
David Lee’s injury: Obviously the injury overshadows everything. It’s even more terrible given how long he’s waited for this playoff appearance. I’m no doctor, but I don’t think the news is going to be good.
David Lee’s game: He didn’t shoot well in this game, because the matchup with Chandler bothered him. With his quickness advantage, Chandler is able to guard him more closely than conventional big men can, and challenge his dribble.
The pick and roll is difficult, because Chandler is the ideal defender to blitz Curry, long and quick.
And posting up Chandler is ill-advised, because he’s simply a great defender. And because Andrew Bogut’s man is always under the basket to give help.
It’s worth noting that Carl Landry struggled badly against Chandler as well, particularly in the fourth quarter, which is what caused Mark Jackson to take him out for Draymond Green. Landry was -4 going against Chandler in the fourth. Green +3.
Faried is probably returning next game, a matchup for which both Lee and Landry are better suited. But it is a gold-plated certainty that George Karl will continue to give Chandler minutes at power forward, particularly in the fourth quarter.
He might force Mark Jackson to go small.
Klay Thompson: His shooting kept the Warriors alive. He was undoubtedly the beneficiary of the Nugget’s focus on Curry, but he still came up big against some of the best wing defense in the NBA. Huge performance in his first playoff game.
The Warriors used him to guard Ty Lawson, which takes its toll, on both on his legs and with foul trouble.
His defense continues to impress. Take a look at the possession he played against Andre Miller, at 1:10 3Q. And compare it to any possession in which Jarret Jack or Harrison Barnes attempted to check Miller.
The Andre Miller problem: With the other Nuggets struggling to get anything going, Miller took over, simply destroying the Warriors with his low-post game. I was shocked at how overmatched Jarret Jack was against him. This is one strong dude.
And Harrison Barnes? He just couldn’t stay in front of him. Take a look at the old-school professor spanking the rookie at 2:15 3Q. Miller literally called for the ball. It’s unusual to see that against a bigger defender, isn’t it?
Mark Jackson clearly didn’t want to double team Miller in the post, but I wonder whether that might not be the best solution. Yes, the crafty Miller can dice you up with a pass to the open man, but can that open man hit a shot?
Actually, the best solution would be for Harrison Barnes to take some pride in playing defense.
Jarret Jack: Jack got more open looks than Curry did. He’ll need to do better than 3-12, 0-5 from three for the Warriors to win a game.
And he’ll need to find someone he can defend in this series. The Nuggets look set to punish the Warriors small backcourt in a way we haven’t seen much of this season.
His saving grace in this game was his playmaking. 10 assists. He was particularly good at getting open looks for Bogut and Landry down the stretch.
Carl Landry: The Nuggets expose all of Landry’s weaknesses as an NBA player.
He wants to play in the low post, but struggled against the long and mobile Nuggets shotblockers, Koufos and McGee. He also got swallowed up on the boards.
The playoffs are where undersized power forwards go to die. Just take a look at Carlos Boozer’s highlight reel.
And he’s not a spread four. Can’t spread the floor himself beyond 15 feet. And can’t guard spread fours, like Wilson Chandler. Not at all.
Nor does he run particularly well. Not nearly as well as Faried and Chandler.
Even with Lee out and the Warriors desperate for his services, Landry might have trouble keeping himself on the floor.
The Brand: Barnes was left virtually unguarded on the perimeter in this game. To his credit, he buried his two wide-open threes.
And as predicted, the Nuggets picked him up with their worst defender. The shooting guard Fournier to start. And frequently even Ty Lawson.
George Karl has Barnes scouted well. Take a look at 9:40 3Q. With Lawson on Barnes, the Nuggets immediately double-team, leading to a turnover. Barnes was double-teamed again at 2:50 3Q, leading to another turnover.
Because of his poor handle and inability to find the open man, this is the ideal way to play Barnes. The Nuggets will not allow him to iso and drive to the rim, as so many poorly prepared teams did in the regular season.
With Lee out, and the Nuggets going small frequently with Chandler at the four, Barnes might wind up getting some time at stretch four.
If so, he’s going to have to do better than 2 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Draymond Green: The kid was down after the game because Andre Miller beat him from the top of the key to end the game. But how many players of Green’s size could even be expected to guard Miller in that spot?
The real culprit on this play was Andrew Bogut, who was “late” giving help in the lane, as Garry St. Jean pointed out after the game. I think there might have been some selfishness involved in that. Bogut was reluctant to leave Javale McGee, because he didn’t want to wind up on a poster.
Green gave the Warriors some good minutes down the stretch. He’s not the ideal player to lean on in a playoff series, but he’s the Warriors best answer to Wilson Chandler at the four.
We’ll be seeing more of Mr. Green.
Mark Jackson: George Karl is a master.
But remarkably, in my opinion, Jackson wasn’t outclassed. I was very impressed by his performance in this game.
Starting with his offensive gameplan. I loved the way the Warriors pushed the tempo in this game, even with Bogut on the floor. Early offense is the only way the Warriors can compete with the Nuggets.
The defensive cross-matches were creative and on point. The zone was sprung at good times, to good effect.
Subbing Draymond Green for Carl Landry in crunch time was essential, and worked.
Despite my frequently voiced opinion that the Warriors play better without Bogut, I had no problem with Jackson riding Bogut in this game, because Bogut delivered a lights-out performance. So long as he has this kind of (rarely seen this season) effectiveness, he must be played.
Jackson shows a dynamism in his lineups and play-calling that is absolutely essential in the playoffs. And in my experience, is actually quite rare in NBA coaches. In his second year, Jackson is a thinking man’s game coach, something I think my readers know I prize above everything when watching basketball.