The Golden State Warriors need two more wins to advance to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, having taken an unexpected 2-1 advantage over the Denver Nuggets with Friday’s nailbiter in Oakland.
Finishing their two-game homestand with another win will give the Warriors a huge advantage for Game 5 in Denver, where the Nuggets have been almost unbeatable all season long.
Denver has had a hard time stopping the Warriors over the last two games. With David Lee out of the lineup, the Golden State offense has gone on a surprising tear, scoring a breathtaking 131 points in Game 2 and 110 points in Game 3. The absence of Lee has allowed the Warriors to operate at a faster pace, putting an even greater emphasis on the backcourt’s long-range shooters and giving Andrew Bogut more room to operate in the low post.
Stephen Curry’s transcendent shooting performances in Games 2 and 3 has catapulted him into the discussion of the NBA’s elite point guards, and his ability to dish to Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (who has had a coming out party of his own over the last two games) has kept the Warriors afloat against Denver’s deep lineup.
Of course, the Nuggets have not been an easy team to beat. Ty Lawson has had no trouble slicing through Golden State’s weak defensive backcourt, and Andre Miller has exploited the Warriors’ smaller lineups to finish efficiently at the rim (and get to the foul line).
With Kenneth Faried back in the lineup, the Nuggets will hope to make up lost ground on the boards, where Golden State has dominated all series. The addition of a healthy Faried gives Denver athleticism and toughness at the forward-center position, a combination the Warriors lack with Bogut and backup center Festus Ezeli.
Key Storyline: Containing the point guards
Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson cannot be stopped. The diminutive point guards have notched player efficiency ratings of 26.1 and 22.6 in the playoffs, respectively, and neither defense has figured out a way to prevent them from creating their shots.
In Curry’s case, the combination of shooters in the Warrior backcourt forces Denver’s defense to mind each of the players along the perimeter. When they do manage to roll an extra defender Curry’s way, they do so at the risk of leaving Thompson, Barnes or even Draymond Green wide open.
Lawson’s offensive production stems more from his ability to blow by the Golden State defense. The Warriors don’t have anyone athletic enough to force Lawson from attacking the rim, and that becomes even more apparent when they sit shot blocker Andrew Bogut.
Finding a way to stop Curry or Lawson should be at the top of George Karl’s and Mark Jackson’s to-do list. Whoever figures it out first will have the key to the series.
X-Factor: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson was a non-factor in Friday’s matchup and it almost cost the Warriors the win. When Thompson’s shot is falling, the Golden State’s backcourt is damn near untouchable. When it doesn’t, it puts an undue burden on Jack/Curry to score and create shots for the rest of Golden State’s offense. As strong as the Harrison Barnes, Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut have looked in this series, you wouldn’t want any of those players to serve as a second scoring option, especially when you have an elite long range shooter in your lineup.
Golden State went 30-14 in games in which Klay shot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. His ability to hit threes kicks Golden State into a new gear offensively, and the Warriors will need to go point-for-point in order to keep up with Denver’s desperate, dangerous run-and-gun game.
Golden State: Festus Ezeli and Stephen Curry are formally listed as day-to-day (they’ll play). David Lee has been sidelined with a torn hip flexor.
Denver: Kenneth Faried is also listed as day-to-day, but after throwing up a 15 point, 7 rebound effort on Friday, it’s hard to imagine him sitting. Danilo Gallinari is out with a torn ACL.
Probable Starting Lineups
Mark Jackson has gone small with his starting lineups in games two and three, opting for a Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson backcourt with Harrison Barnes playing power forward and Andrew Bogut at center. He may switch it up tonight however, and play Carl Landry at the four with Jack coming off the bench.
Denver will likely start Andre Igoudala (F-G), Wilson Chandler (F), Kenneth Faried (F-C), Evan Fournier (G) and Ty Lawson (PG).
How the Warriors can win
Golden State has outrebounded the Nuggets all series, which has helped them control the pace of the game and prevent Denver from scoring heavily in transition – something that team has excelled at all year. If they continue to win the battle of the boards and exploit the Nuggets’ iffy perimeter defense, they have a good chance of going back to Denver with a 3-1 advantage in the series.
How the Nuggets can win
The Nuggets have had a hard time scoring with Andrew Bogut on the court, and the Warriors interior defense completely falls apart when the Australian big man is absent. Attacking the paint early, and putting Bogut in a position where he’ll have to foul, could force Mark Jackson to limit his starting center’s minutes.
This would also help the Nuggets on the boards. The Warriors’ offensive rebounding percentage falls by 2.3 percent when the Aussie sits. With David Lee already absent, eliminating Bogut as a factor will allow Kenneth Faried and the Nuggets to exploit Golden State’s undersized lineup on the glass.