When David Lee went down for the playoffs with a torn hip flexor, the Warriors were going to go small and it was hard to see how they were going to slow down a Denver team that led the NBA in points in the paint this past season. Not that Lee’s a defensive force, but he’s a big body and where was Golden State’s inside/outside balance going to come from?
Meet Andrew Bogut.
Bogut has stepped up like his old self and Stephen Curry has cemented his position as the best shooter in the Association over the last three games.
That combination — and a rash of Denver Nugget turnovers — led the Warriors to a 115-101 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Game 5 is in Denver Tuesday night.
Golden State went small when Lee went down — starting Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson — and just decided to run with Denver. Game 4 was played at a pace faster than the Nuggets averaged in the regular season.
It works in part because Bogut is having his best stretch of play since before his elbow injury back in Milwaukee, back when people in the game thought Bogut one of the best centers around. In the first half Bogut went 6-of-9 for 12 points, leading a team that shot 52.5 percent in the first 24 minutes. Bogut was throwing down dunks and roaring at the Nuggets. Denver did a good job of taking the ball out of Curry’s hands — he was just 1-of-3 in the first (and that make was a deep three up against the clock).
But the Nuggets couldn’t take advantage because Warriors also did a good job of crowding the paint and contesting the Nuggets shots when they drove the lane. Bogut again was at the heart of that. Denver shot just 42.9 percent in the first half and the team that led the league in points in the paint in the first half had just 18 points.
Golden State went on an 11-0 to end the first half and lead 56-44 at the break. Denver had six turnovers during that run, 14 for the half and was stalling them out.
That trend continued, Denver ended the game having turned the ball over on 23.3 percent of their possessions. They turned it over almost one if four times down the court.
Denver made a push in the third quarter and got the lead down to four with 6:30 left and looked like they might make the series all square.
Then Curry hit another three and it was on. He finished the third with 22 points, he had the crowd fired up — and there are few crowds louder, few places harder to play when the stadium is rocking than Golden State.
Curry finished with 31 points and the Warriors ran away with it in the fourth quarter. Jack finished with 21 and six Warriors were in double digits. Golden State had 48 points in the paint to 36 for a Denver team that averaged more than 50 a game that way in the regular season.
Golden State has embraced what they had to do after Lee went down, beating Denver at its own game. Denver needs Kenneth Faried and its big men to step up and match Bogut, to defend in the paint. When that happens, the Nuggets can focus on keeping a guy on Curry from the second he steps over the half court line, because right now that’s where his range starts.
Denver is going to need a lot or a team everybody was high on a month ago as a team that could shake up the West will be gone after the first round. Maybe after Tuesday.