The Golden State Warriors learned an important lesson on Tuesday night. Kenneth Faried doesn’t respond well to forearm shivers to the neck, especially if he’s already angry.
Breakout performances from Faried and Andre Igoudala spurred the Denver Nuggets to victory in a must-win game at home Tuesday, forcing Game 6 in Oakland where Golden State hopes to reignite its high-octane offense.
Tuesday’s matchup featured some uncharacteristically poor shooting from the Warriors, with Stephen Curry held to 15 points on 7-of-19 from the field. Denver’s renewed emphasis on quality defense and size dominated Golden State’s small ball lineup and got under the skin of center Andrew Bogut, who threw violent and potentially dangerous shove to Faried’s throat.
Although Denver’s run-and-gun style offense took a 22-point lead at one point Tuesday, the Warriors did manage to claw their way back to within five in the final frame, pushing the tempo after Denver Head Coach George Karl inexplicably sat Igoudala. The Nuggets’ defense failed to coalesce with Iggy off the floor, giving Curry open looks and allowing Jarrett Jack to repeatedly drive to the basket – the Warriors eventually outscored the Nuggets 31-21 in the final quarter.
Golden State needs to continue playing at that pace Thursday, as the road to a first round upset will be substantially more difficult if it requires a return trip to Denver for a Game 7. In front of its home crowd, the Nuggets played a tougher version of defense that left Curry and some of the other younger Warriors rattled.
Head coach Mark Jackson will surely emphasize this to the Warriors big men, who performed sporadically Tuesday after stringing together some terrific minutes in Game Four.
Like an episode of Law & Order, Thursday’s game will be decided by two separate yet equally important factors.
1) Stopping Stephen Curry: Curry killed the Nuggets in Games 2, 3 and 4, averaging 30 points and 10.3 assists per game on .554 shooting. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, it’s probably time to adjust my defensive scheme because the level of shame I now live with has become untenable.
Head coach George Karl sicced Igoudala on Curry in Game 5, holding the free shooting point guard to 15 points and eight assists in almost 42 minutes of play.It’s hard to understand why he hadn’t thrown his defensive savant on Curry earlier. With Igoudala on the floor, Curry averages 9.3 fewer points, 2.4 fewer shot attempts, 1.8 fewer three point attempts and 1.8 fewer free throw attempts on a per-36 minute basis than when he sits, according to NBA.com’s advanced statistics. If Karl is smart (the Warriors went on their fourth quarter run when Igoudala sat), expect Iggy to get major minutes on Curry tonight.
2) Not-so Dirty Play: Jackson’s post-game complaints about ‘hit-men’ and dirty play were obnoxious. On one hand, he has to make a public display of supporting Curry, who was clearly rattled by the Nuggets’ newfound physical defense. On the other, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green have been committing similar borderline flagrant fouls all series, something Karl complimented backhandedly earlier this week.
Yes, the Nuggets committed some questionable fouls in Tuesday’s game. But their insistence on being more physical boxing out Warrior rebounders gave Denver an important advantage on the boards and eliminated Golden State’s ability to score in the paint. Bogut, Green and Festus Ezeli will have to toughen up if the Warriors have any hope of ending the series tonight.
The Warriors turned the ball over 17 times on Tuesday. They will have to do a much better job taking care of the ball if they plan on finishing the series Thursday. At the very least, they’ll have to do better job of holding the Denver offense in transition.
Injury Report (ESPN.com)
Warriors: David Lee (torn hip flexor) and Stephen Curry (day-to-day with an ankle sprain – he’ll start)
Nuggets: Danilo Gallanari (torn ACL)
Probable Starting Lineups
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Nuggets: The Nuggets had a lot of early success with their bigs in Game Five starting Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Andre Igoudala and Ty Lawson. That lineup gives Denver size advantages at four of the five positions (Ty Lawson never has a size advantage).
How the Warriors Can Win: Efficiency
As a team, Golden State shot only 43.2 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from deep on Tuesday, 7.9 percent and 4.7 percent less than their respective season averages. Denver’s large lineup and Igoudala’s defensive presence against Curry kept the Warriors away from driving lanes and forced second-tier players to be the primary source of offense.
Bogut and Carl Landry scored early and often from the paint in Game Five, which gave the Warriors a cushion and allowed perimeter players to develop their shot with open looks. In Game Six, better ball movement and establishing higher percentage looks for Bogut or Landry down low in the first quarter will create opportunities against Denver’s usually porous defense. As a byproduct, it should also create better shots for Curry down the stretch.
How the Nuggets Can Win: Play 48 minutes
The Warriors outscored the Nuggets 31-21 in the fourth quarter, erasing what had been a 17-point advantage going into the final 12 minutes of play. If the Nuggets leave the door open for the Warriors at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry and company will shoot their way through it.
Defense and rebounding in the early quarters won the Nuggets Game 5. If Igoudala and Faried can continue to needle Golden State’s starters in Thursday’s matchup, they have a very good chance at bringing the series back to Denver this weekend.