How did the game go with Nuggets?
The energy seemed to dry up after the jump in Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets when the Chase Center fans were too quiet for the players’ tastes and were asked several times to increase the intensity of their cheering and affection.
Warriors making history this time.
“It’s been three years since we made the playoffs, and you forget how hard the last game was,” Warriors manager Steve Kerr said. “Honestly, I think three-quarters of them are like our players — our main players, Steph, Draymond, Klay — probably have forgotten how hard it is to end a series.” Finally, the Warriors looked at the scoreboard and found themselves advancing to the second round of the playoffs after a 102-98 battle. It was the team’s first playoff series win since 2019 when Kevin Durant was still on the roster. Even though their offence was far from peaking, they shut down the Nuggets, showing the versatility this team needs for the next series and beyond if they can do it.
If a team is going to be successful in the NBA playoffs, it must find ways to win when its stars battle it out on the offensive. The Warriors were able to do just that on Wednesday thanks to more disciplined defence, timely input from role players, and a spectacular final performance from their superstar. First, the reason gave the Nuggets 20 free throws in the first half against just seven Warriors.
Nikola Jokic was as good as ever with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 8 assists (Draymond Green said “thank you for making me better” to the reigning MVP after the game), but the foul wasn’t all his credit. Aaron Gordon made 8 free throws in the first half.
The Warriors’ defensive plan always starts with “defend without fail,” and their failure in that regard saw the Nuggets lead by eight points after three quarters. However, everything changed as Green tasked the coaching staff to implement a box and one as the Warriors returned to come back in the final frame. Denver looked taken aback, and when the Warriors were able to stop foul-free, they went into the races with one of the deadliest cross-country fights in the league.
Golden State was also hammered on the scoreboard, with Thompson saying that assistant coach Mike Brown suggested he take part in the glass game. He finished with a team-high nine rebounds.
“I think we just communicated better. When our defence is so blocked, it’s easy for us to attack,” Thompson said after the match. “It was definitely a big talking point in the confusion, playing a great defence.”
The Warriors kept the Nuggets only six points in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter as they extended a four-point lead with just over four minutes remaining. The defence helped save the Warriors on Wednesday and is the hallmark of virtually every true championship contender in NBA history. Golden State didn’t need to do this for the first four games of the series because their offence was excellent, but they definitely needed to step up their defence to shut out the Nuggets in Game 5. In addition to Green, Gary Payton II’s contribution to protection was invaluable throughout the journey.
Kerr chose to stay with him, as Poole fouled five times off the bench for most of the fourth quarter. But we all know Payton’s defence — it’s become part of every opponent’s scouting report. Typically, scouting reports suggest Payton folds when he’s behind the 3-point line, but Wednesday costs the Nuggets, knocking down three of his four 3-pointers, including one for expansion. The Warriors’ lead. Just over a minute left.
“He doesn’t seem to be particularly upset about anything. It’s more stressful when you get kicked out like him – he’s in the G League, and he’s on a 10-day contract, and he never finds a home. A high-stakes game is being played,” Kerr said Wednesday. “He found a home here. He was always comfortable on the floor; he never seemed overwhelmed.
It all fell to Curry, the closest team that night, as Thompson and Poole struggled to score shots. Curry went 3 of 4 of 3 in the third quarter, which cleared the way for a ring he was more than willing to take. He didn’t hit a treble in the fourth quarter but went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line and made two friction layups in the final at 1:33 of the game, the second of which essentially sealed the win.
“I think he is much stronger. When he drove into the hole, the teams tried to run him off the road. After the game, he can’t be moved anymore,” Greene said of Curry. “So once he puts his head down and wants to get to the edge, he will get there.”
The game wasn’t great, but when the turning point came, Curry took advantage of what the defence gave him and found a way to help his team win. It’s what it takes to make the team out of the playoffs, and it’s what the Warriors will need as they continue their journey to familiar NBA Finals terrain. The next hurdle will be the first-round series winner between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Today, it was just a weird feeling because we hadn’t been there in a while, and we wanted it so badly. After the win, we made it a lot harder for ourselves,” Curry said. “But we still remember how to do it, and it’s a great feeling.”