As pointed out in my last post, the result of this Game 5 between the Warriors and the Nuggets was predictable. It was a give-up and rest-up road game for the Warriors, and the home Nuggets had their backs to the wall, and played like it.
Or did this game have something to do with Kenneth Faried’s resurgence into better health, Andrew Bogut’s relapse into immobility, and George Karl’s adjustment-du-jour, going big for the first time this series, by starting Javale McGee at center with Faried at the four? Therein lies the intrigue.
Karl’s Adjustments: This was the first time all season that Karl put McGee in the starting lineup. It’s also the first time all series that McGee matched up against Bogut for a quarter of basketball. And I think an objective observer would note that McGee won the matchup, for this game at least. Quicker to the boards, quicker post moves (although he blew some bunnies). And critically, since Bogut could do nothing against him at the offensive end, he was free to defend the paint.
Karl also switched his best defender, Iguodala, away from Klay Thompson, and back onto Curry, and sometimes, Jack. It looked to me like Karl was reading Mark Jackson’s mind on this: when it was time for Jack to play the point, Iggy started picking him up. That left Ty Lawson to play Curry, and he did a good job staying in front of him. I think we can safely say we won’t see Andre Miller picking Curry up anymore.
And I think it’s safe to say that Karl will roll with this gameplan in Game 6. Faried is as back as he will get. The time for improvisation and experimentation is over.
Mark Jackson’s Adjustments: Jackson surprised me by staying small and sticking with Harrison Barnes at the four. He had been threatening all series long — via his opening lineup shenanigans — to match up big with Carl Landry whenever Karl returned to his traditional regular-season big opening lineup.
This is truly a tough call. The Warriors got worked on the inside in this game, but it’s hard to know how much of that was due to Bogut’s down game, how much Bogut can improve in Game 6, and how well Landry can work together with Bogut against McGee and Faried. We haven’t seen much of that this season, or in this series.
Also, Barnes might be better suited than Landry to defend the run and gun Nuggets. And of course, Barnes has been helping Curry and Jack considerably in the half-court by stretching the floor and punishing the Nuggets from the three-point line.
It will be very interesting to see whether Jackson stays small to start Game 6. Very interesting.
I was greatly surprised as well by another of Jackson’s decisions. With the Nuggets taking Chandler off of Bogut, wouldn’t you have expected Jackson to return to the Curry and Bogut pick and roll that he used so extensively to start Game 4? Invite the trap, drawing McGee out of the lane (he is, by the way, far less efficient at trapping Curry than Chandler), and feed the ball back to the completely-unguarded, rolling Bogut for some more Thunder Slams? Jackson went away from it in this game. Only one high pick was set by Bogut for Curry, by my count.
Why did Jackson go away from what appeared to most fans to work stupendously well in the first quarter of the last game? From what got Bogut 12 points in that first quarter? Was it because the third quarter of last game showed him how much better the Warriors are with Curry and Jack iso’d, and attacking one-on-one? Or was it to save wear and tear on the gimpy Curry? Or was it to save wear and tear on the gimpy Bogut? Perhaps Mark Jackson realized that Karl was baiting him into overusing Bogut?
It should be noted that when the highly mobile Ezeli was on the floor, the Warriors used him repeatedly in the high pick and roll. And George Karl was far less willing to trap hard off of Ezeli’s picks than he was Bogut’s in the last game. Some sophisticated decisions are being made by both coaches here, that would be fertile territory for a beat reporter to explore.
Curry: Had a tough time breaking down Iggy and Lawson without the aid of picks. And in general, was far less aggressive looking for his shot, particularly in the first half.
Thompson: Iggy’s off him the first two games, shoots well. Iggy’s on him games 3 and 4, shoots poorly. Iggy’s off him again, 19 points on 8-17.
Yes, matchups matter.
It should also be noted that Jackson has been determined to attack the Nugget’s weakest defenders, so that when Iggy is on Klay, he simply doesn’t get the play calls.
I wonder, is it the Warriors long-term plan to keep Klay in the backcourt with Curry, and use him to guard all the jitterbug point guards? Is that what they see themselves doing next year? Three years from now?
Klay is doing an admirable job in an impossible assignment. As constructed, the Warriors have major defensive issues on the perimeter.
Bogut: It’s possible he just took this game off, and given his health issues, I wouldn’t blame him if he did.
But: Very little pep in his step, or springiness in his jump. We saw a lot more activity in Game 1.
McGee is a lot quicker than him in the paint. If McGee’s finishing ability improves in Game 6, this could hurt the Warriors. Those of you who saw McGee against Bynum and Gasol in last year’s playoffs know what I mean.
No dunks in this game, and when Bogut doesn’t get all the way to the rim, he doesn’t score. His one basket in this game was a put-back. We’ve seen some pretty ugly runners from him in the last couple of games. No post-ups whatsoever. Not one.
5 rebounds, like last game. And the Warriors out-rebounded for the second straight game.
Is Bogut wearing down? I expect him to come out on fire in Game 6, shot up with everything possible, and holding nothing back. The question will be how effective he remains in the second half.
Barnes: The Nuggets are completely ignoring him on defense. His putative defender, Faried, is busy packing the lane. And Barnes is making the Nuggets pay, time and time again, by knocking down his wide-open threes.
That’s what stretch-fours do. Congratulations to Mark Jackson, for discovering this concept in the post-season. Assist, David Lee.
I was impressed by a couple of his defensive rebounds. For the first time all season, Barnes is being forced to compete under the basket, and he showed well in this game. 9 boards.
His one weakness remains his midrange game off the bounce. The Nuggets would do well to drive him off the three point line. But they just might not be able to do that, with all the attention they’re forced to pay Curry and Jack.
Of Cheap Shots and Flagrant Fouls: Look, I’ve seen a lot of playoff basketball. I’m old enough to have seen Kevin McHale clothesline Kurt Rambis. I saw Robert Horry take Steve Nash out of a series, and a likely championship. I saw the bad boy Pistons, and the even badder Oakley-Mason Knicks.
What we’ve seen in this series ain’t nothing. What we saw last night was pussy-footing.
Bogut has delivered the strongest blow in this series, by far: the crushing screen on Andre Iguodala. And yes, it was blatantly illegal. He lowered his shoulder, and the boom. It just didn’t get called.
I loved it. And I’m not going to start sputtering up nicely chilled Chardonnay when the Nuggets retaliate.
Man up, Warriors fans.
Game Six: As I mentioned in my last post, NBA history suggests that Game 6 will be for all the marbles. It is extraordinarily difficult to win a Game 7 on the road. (I’m sure someone will ship me the stats on that.)
I give the edge to the Warriors. Not so much because they’re at home. I think that can be greatly overrated in close-out games. But because they have the series’ only superstar, and they have an overwhelming edge in shooters and scorers.
I think that to win Game 6, the Nuggets will have to get a huge three-point shooting game out of the blue, from at least one player. The most likely bet is Wilson Chandler. 41% on the season, heating up at 5-11 last game, including a late 4th quarter dagger. And the Warriors are leaving him open.
But I’ll put my money on Stephen Curry. As I have done without wavering since watching him play in his first NBA preseason.
It’s closing time, and the Warriors have one of the best closers I have ever seen, or ever hope to see.