Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets - Game Two

Warriors go on the offensive, dominate Nuggets to even the series

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The Warriors had a lot of questions surrounding them heading into this game.

How would they adjust to playing without David Lee? Who would start in his place? Would Stephen Curry find his offense? Would anyone else step up?

In order, they answered those accordingly: not much, Jarrett Jack, YES, and YES.

The Warriors put on a clinic in this game, running circles around the Nuggets by shooting an astonishing 64.6% from the field and claiming a 131-117 win to tie up the series at one game a piece.

The star of the night was easily Curry who, after starting out slowly (again), found his stroke from all over the floor to terrorize the Denver defense. Curry hit all variety of shots — step back jumpers from behind the arc, pull ups from mid-range, and even nifty finishes at the rim. He finished with a game high 30 points on 13-23 shooting, including 9 of his 13 shots from inside the arc.

But just as important as Curry’s scoring was his ability to set up his teammates. He also tallied 13 assists, getting the rest of his guys going to help trigger the onslaught that Denver simply didn’t have an answer for.

Three other Warriors besides Curry had at least 20 points in this game, led by Jarrett Jack’s 26 points (10-15 shooting) and rookie Harrison Barnes’ 24 points (9-14 shooting). Add that to Klay Thompson’s 21 points on 11 shots (including 5-6 from behind the arc) and the Warriors’ perimeter players overwhelmed the Nuggets all night.

Barnes’ performance was especially impressive in this game, not just because he’s rookie, but more so because of the versatility he showed in scoring the ball. He not only hit from the outside, but was also able to knock down mid-range shots while showing a fantastic ability to finish at the rim. He had several highlight level plays, including a two handed reverse dunk on Anthony Randolph that left the Denver crowd stunned and his teammates celebrating.

Those finishes at the rim were indicative of a second half that had Denver head coach George Karl scrambling for defensive answers that never came. With the Warriors doing so much damage from the wing, Karl elected to play a small lineup for most of the final 24 minutes, only playing Kosta Koufos a shade over three minutes and JaVale McGee a little over four minutes. Instead Karl turned to Anthony Randolph and Kenneth Faried as his big men, but both struggled to protect the rim. Faried, returning from injury, looked particularly sluggish and not yet back in game form, lacking his normal burst and athleticism around the basket on either end of the floor.

The Warriors took full advantage of that lack of size, running pick and rolls that allowed them to attack the paint and then finishing with ease once there. Golden State hit 12 of their 14 shots in the restricted area in that second half, which only led to the Nuggets over-helping once the ball got close to the rim, allowing the Warriors to kick the ball out to wide open shooters behind the arc. The formula was simplistic, but highly effective and all the Nuggets could do was watch as their home court advantage got washed away in the tide of made Warriors buckets.

Meanwhile, even though the Nuggets scored 117 points, they have to question if their approach is going to get it done over the course of this series. Denver only scored 8 fast break points in this game and couldn’t find many ways to generate the frenetic pace they love to play at. The Warriors cut off the Nuggets’ fast break attack wonderfully by consistently sending three players back on defense, trading offensive rebounding chances for better transition defense.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets were just the opposite, sending three (and sometimes four) players to the offensive glass on too many possessions and allowing the Warriors to run out for fast break chances in the process. The Warriors didn’t take advantage of these chances often, but they did get some timely baskets on run-outs; baskets that enabled them to maintain and/or extend the lead at crucial parts of the game.

Through two games in this series it’s not a stretch to say that the Warriors have clearly been the better team. They only lost game one by a single last second basket, but blew the doors off the Nuggets in game two. The Warriors look more poised and seem to have a better game plan through two games. And now head back to what will surely be a raucous Oracle Arena in Oakland to try and carry over momentum and seize control of the series.

On a night that started with so many questions for the Warriors, it’s now the Nuggets that have some searching to do. And if they can’t find some answers quickly, they may find themselves on the wrong end of first round upset.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.