It’s difficult to get extremely upset about a loss like this, by only two points on the road in the first playoff game for most of the players involved. The Golden State Warriors are new to the NBA Playoffs, and that generally means struggles followed by disappointment followed by an offseason of regrouping and reloading. And the Warriors didn’t embarrass themselves one bit today. Actually, they probably surprised people with their toughness, especially coming back from a second half deficit on the road that would’ve squashed many teams.
Yet, this 97-95 loss was a tough one to swallow. The Denver Nuggets are clearly no juggernaut, despite what their home and second half records would tell you. The Warriors came extremely close to winning a game where Stephen Curry was the worst shooter on the court in the first half and they lost David Lee to a right hip flexor injury in the second, mostly because of 28 points from Andre Miller.
Andre … freaking … Miller. For all of the worries about Wilson Chandler scoring at will from outside and high-flying JaVale McGee knocking every Warriors shot out of the sky like a defense missile, it was the veteran floor-bound point guard who the Warriors couldn’t stop. Besides a couple moments from Ty Lawson and Corey Brewer, that was all the offense Denver had. But it was enough, and now the Warriors might be left to earn a split without their second-leading scorer.
Granted, Lee wasn’t good in Game 1. Besides defensive rebounds, he didn’t provide much of anything. He looked tentative offensively, almost afraid of getting rejected in grand enough fashion to become highlight show fodder. But Lee is also a body, and the Warriors are short on those. If the Warriors are without Lee in Game 2, they can’t afford to have Klay Thompson collect his fifth foul with several minutes remaining. Harrison Barnes can’t disappear as he does so often (and did in Game 1, after making a couple shots early).
The Warriors played good enough defense to win Game 1, but the Nuggets played better defense in the third quarter and that was the difference. The Warriors went into halftime with a four-point lead, even though Curry shot terribly in his first playoff half, because Klay Thompson was nowhere near as nervous and the team as a whole only committed six turnovers.
Golden State turned the ball over 11 times in the second half. That simply can’t happen.
Offensive rebounding was my biggest worry going into this series, but the Nuggets only grabbed seven offensive boards to the Warriors’ 13 and had no put-back dunks that I can remember. If Lee is out and Kenneth Faried returns to the Nuggets’ lineup, Game 2 could be a different story.
The biggest positive that came from this game, besides the Warriors looking up to the task of keeping playoff games close against a deeper opponent, was the play of Andrew Bogut. He was simply phenomenal defensively in the second half, and wasn’t half bad offensively either. In fact, he went 4-for-7 from the field and I would’ve like to see him be more aggressive at times — there was one instance in particular when he tried to feed Jarrett Jack (who was a good facilitator at times but didn’t shoot all that well) in the paint which led to a turnover late in the game. If Lee can’t play, Bogut needs to feel free to shoot when the Nuggets aren’t giving him respect. That’s probably something Mark Jackson will tell him.
Jackson will also need to get Barnes to realize that he has the wherewithal to destroy these Nuggets offensively if he keeps pushing the action. Carl Landry … well, he’s not going to change. Maybe the jump shots will fall, maybe they won’t. They can hope for a superhuman performance in Lee’s (possible) absence, but hoping probably won’t get the Warriors very far.
The key in Game 2 will certainly be Curry. With Lee either hobbled or out completely, the Warriors stand no chance of keeping the game close if Curry converts only one of his first 10 shot attempts as he did today. It appeared that the jitters left Curry’s body after halftime, and he hit the three to tie the game with less than 20 seconds remaining that sent everyone in a tizzy at the Warriorsworld party at Rouge SF. 30+ points AND several assists are the requirement from Curry in Game 2 if the Warriors want to have a chance — while I predicted a lower-scoring Game 1 during the pregame show, I don’t think the Nuggets will be held under 100 two games in a row at home.
And while I think Jackson performed fine in his first playoff game as a head coach, the Warriors have to figure out a way to get Curry the ball near the end of games that isn’t as predictable as the curl-around play that led to the Lawson steal. Then again if Lee is gone, the entire offensive gameplan will have to change. The defensive gameplan might get easier, actually (as long as the Warriors stay out of foul trouble).