Even though the series is tied at one game a piece, the Nuggets have been thoroughly outplayed by the Warriors in the first two games. Golden State has had the better game plan and has made the better adjustments. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have been very good in some areas but not able to play their normal breakneck style for sustained stretches.
This, of course, is a problem. If the Warriors are controlling the tempo, dictating the match ups, and playing their own game more than the Nuggets get to play theirs, this series will turn out different than many expected — expectations that shifted even further when David Lee was injured.
If the Nuggets are to regain the momentum lost during a split on their home court, they need to get back to playing their game; get back to dictating the terms of engagement. That means getting out in the open court and scoring baskets in the paint.
The Warriors have done a good job of stopping the Nuggets’ open court attack by abandoning offensive rebounding chances in favor of getting at least three players back in transition defense. Also, it’s very hard to run for easy baskets when you’re taking the ball out of the bottom of the net as often as the Nuggets have this series.
Denver, then, needs a counter and needs one quickly. Enter Ty Lawson. The speedy point guard has had a very good series so far, shooting the ball relatively well and being aggressive in stretches. However, if the Nuggets want to change the pace and feel of this game, it must start with Lawson getting aggressive every time he touches the ball, looking to push in the open court and not settling to back the ball out and run a half court set. The Warriors are a good defensive team and are taking away the Nuggets’ deep passes up the sideline. So, Lawson must change the attack and rather than throw the ball up the court he must advance it with the dribble.
Second, the Nuggets must get back to being the team with the better frontline. In the first two games, Andrew Bogut has been the series’ best big man and has controlled the defensive paint. In game two, the Warriors’ best lineup was Bogut and four wings (Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes) and the Nuggets tried to counter that with an equally small lineup only without a traditional center. That approach failed as Kenneth Faried clearly wasn’t physically 100%.
Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee need to have more of an impact in game 3, doing a better job defensively in the pick and roll, but especially being more active around their own offensive paint. The Nuggets are at their best not only when they attack the rim in the open court and off dribble drives in the half court, but when their big men effectively crash the offensive glass. Yes, the Nuggets have to balance their pursuit of their own misses with getting back on defense, but they also need to remember why they’ve been so successful this season and that involves punishing teams with second chance points.
Of course, none of this will be easy. The Warriors have the momentum now. And, while Denver has been so great at home they’ve been a much worse team on the road. And few arenas in the league are as wild and rambunctious as Oracle Arena during a playoff game. The crowd will be into the game and they will spur on the home team.
But the Warriors have their own questions to answer and can’t just rely on the crowd to push them to a win. Curry is coming off a sprained ankle in game 2 and is a game-time decision for this game (though I bet he plays). Their small lineup was effective in the last game but how much of that success was based off a shooting performance that isn’t likely to be duplicated? At some point, missing David Lee has to matter, right?
How the Warriors answer these questions and whether or not the Nuggets can find their lost rhythm will determine the winner.