Well, you could see that one coming.
The Warriors fell to the Nuggets tonight 107-100, but the final score doesn’t truly reflect the story of the game. Denver came out pushing the tempo, as expected, and Golden State was never able to catch up.
The Nuggets led from wire-to-wire, taking control early with a strong opening quarter, and managed to achieve a 22-point advantage at one point early in the second half. The Warriors fought their way back, cutting that deficit to five late in the fourth quarter, but due to some untimely turnovers (and some unlucky bounces), the deficit proved too much to overcome.
You knew Denver wasn’t going to lay down. With their backs against the wall, the Nuggets got back to the kind of play that helped them earn the #3 seed in the West, winning the rebounding battle and creating points off of turnovers. They opened the game with a new starting lineup, going big with both JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried forming their frontcourt. Golden State stuck with the same lineup that had gotten them a three games to one series lead, but ended up with a much different result. The Nuggets dominated the offensive boards and pounded the Warriors on the inside. With the slighter Harrison Barnes playing at power forward, the Dubs were unable to respond in kind.
The Warriors didn’t exactly do themselves any favors either. The game was hanging in the balance for much of the first quarter, but every time the Warriors managed to cut the deficit down to a few points, Denver would push the lead back out of reach, particularly aided by turnovers. But the issue didn’t stop there. Yes, a turnover is never a good thing, but when you allow that turnover to snowball into long, extended runs for the opposition, you’re just asking to get blown out. And that’s exactly what happened, at least until the final quarter. Whether it was an 8-0, 10-2 or 13-0 run, the Warriors let this game get away from them when they failed to stop the bleeding. With Denver’s uptempo style, of course they’re going to get their points. But the Warriors cannot contribute to their dynamism. Because when they do, this is what happens.
Echoing one of Mark Jackson’s favorite postgame-isms, give the Nuggets credit. They did what they had to do on a night that they absolutely had to do it. Andre Iguodala, who’s been impressive all series long, took it to another level tonight and dominated from the opening tip, scoring a game-high 25 points to go with 12 rebounds. Ty Lawson did a great job orchestrating their offense and finding open shooters, especially Wilson Chandler, who’s five three-pointers stretched the Warriors’ defense out and opened up more opportunities for the slashers to attack the basket. Yes, the Warriors committed too many turnovers (17), but the vast majority of them weren’t unforced. It seems as if Denver might have found a new formula that works, and I’d expect them to come out the same way when Game 6 tips off on Thursday.
And the Warriors better be ready. Anytime you have a chance to knock a team out, particularly as a lower seed, you have to jump on it. Missed opportunities are flirtations with disaster, and although only eight teams in NBA history have come back from being down 3-1 to win a series, there’s no question the pressure is on Golden State to not allow number nine. They will have no greater opportunity to send the Nuggets packing than on Thursday when they return home to the friendly confines of Oracle Arena, where the energy in the building seems to take on a life of its own. The Warriors will need that energy (and that raucous crowd) in order to put an end to the Nuggets season. It’s not an elimination game for the Dubs, but they’d certainly do well to take care of business at home.
It won’t be easy, but in the playoffs, nothing ever is. Now is the time for the Warriors to show what they are made of. Let’s see if they have what it takes to respond.