Winning Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at home against the Denver Nuggets was a good second step for the Golden State Warriors. It may be hard to believe after Friday’s 110-108 outlasting of Denver at Oracle Arena, but the road ahead isn’t an easy one for the Warriors.
Without forward David Lee, lost to a hip injury for the rest of the postseason, Golden State is down its most reliable rebounder against a Nuggets squad that can crash the boards with the best of them. It didn’t cost the Warriors on Friday because of the performances of Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack, but those are numbers Golden State can’t count on night after night.
So, how do the Warriors go about winning Game 4 on Sunday? And what would it mean if they did manage to come out on top?
The first step is to limit Curry’s minutes to the important ones. It would be tempting for Mark Jackson to leave his star point guard out on the floor for as long as humanly possible, thus never having to find alternate scoring routes. If Curry is hot (and he’s hot often), the offense becomes very difficult to stop. The defense crashes on Curry any time he even looks like he’s thinking about getting a look, and the other four Warriors on the floor become very viable options if Curry decides to pass instead of draining a three.
But on a balky ankle, even a fabulous player like Curry will become less and less effective as the game wears on. Jackson’s goal should be to keep Curry in long enough that he stays hot from the field, but give him enough rest to be a factor in the final minutes if the game is close.
Equally as important is to find a way to activate “good” Klay Thompson instead of “bad” Klay Thompson. “Bad” Klay Thompson has been the one present throughout most of the first three games, showing occasional flashes of brilliance. But for the most part, he has struggled to find the stroke that makes him one of the league’s most dangerous players when he has it going.
If Thompson is on, Golden State can alternate their two guards and keep Denver off balance. If Thompson struggles, Golden State becomes much more one-dimensional and easier to figure out.
Finally, Andrew Bogut has to, at the very least, compete with the Nuggets’ big men down low. Bogut has held his own through the first three games, and that may be all Golden State needs to emerge victorious. But any slippage, inlcuding foul trouble, will leave the Warriors vastly overmatched in the paint, which is the main ingredient in the Nuggets’ winning formula.
What would a Game 4 win, and thus a 3-1 series lead, mean for Golden State?
Although far from an automatic ticket to the next round, a win would put the Warriors in a very secure position. They have proven they can win (in dominant fashion, as well) on the Nuggerts’ previously impenetrable home court. The Warriors are one of the league’s best teams at home, and would be guaranteed at least one more contest at Oracle Arena. The chances that they would win at least one of the last three games of the series are very high.
They have to win Sunday, first, however. That’s the task the team faces at Oracle in Game 4. They can’t get ahead of themselves, but a win would put them ahead of the Nuggets enough that they can at least begin to dream about a date with the Western Conference Semifinals.