The Nuggets finally looked like themselves this series, and not a moment too soon. By beating the Warriors 107-100, the Nuggets not only staved off elimination, but grabbed some momentum in the process.
Nearly every Nugget win this season saw the same trends develop and this game was no different. Denver scored 50 points in the paint, forced 17 Warrior turnovers (which they turned into 19 points), and worked the offensive glass to grab 15 offensive rebounds (which they turned into 20 points). When Denver can control these three aspects of the game, they become almost unbeatable as the Warriors found out.
The star of the game was Andre Iguodala who put up a LeBron type line, stuffing the stat sheet with a team high 25 points while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing 7 assists. Iguodala was all over the floor, flashing his versatility by playing a lot of point forward and creating shots for himself and his teammates off the dribble. And when he wasn’t handling the ball, he was working masterfully off it, finding space in the post and punishing the smaller defenders Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson tried to hide on him all night.
Outside of Iguodala, it was a real team effort from Denver who got several strong contributions up and down their roster. Six players scored in double-digits, with Wilson Chandler’s 19 points via some very good outside shooting helping to create spacing for Ty Lawson (who also scored 19) to create off the dribble and attack the interior of the Warriors’ defense.
But while the Nuggets on the floor clearly picked up their respective games to pick up this win, a lot of credit has to go to head George Karl for pushing the right buttons and making some effective adjustments. Karl switched up his starting lineup, going to JaVale McGee at Center to play next to Kenneth Faried in the front court. McGee’s activity in defending the paint allowed the Denver’s wing defenders to pressure the ball and shoot the gap into passing lanes and create turnovers.
Karl also went away from the Lawson and Andre Miller backcourt — at least early in the game — playing Corey Brewer at shooting guard for extended minutes while also matching up Kosta Koufos against Carl Landry for the majority of his minutes. These shifts kept much more size on the floor and kept the Warriors flustered on offense as they always seemed to run into a bigger, longer defender than they have all series.
In contrast to Karl, Warriors’ head man Mark Jackson made some decisions that he’d likely take back if given another opportunity. For long stretches he tried to hide Curry defensively on Iguodala, but as mentioned that went poorly. He also closed the game with Draymond Green and Festus Ezili rather than playing Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry. Bogut’s absence was particularly glaring as the team missed his defensive presence and work on the glass.
Not to bury Jackson as he did ride out the stretch with the guys who were able to make a push and cut into the Nuggets’ lead to make it a game in the 4th quarter.
After starting so slowly due to some solid defense and some physical play, Curry scored 7 of his 15 points in the final period while also handing out 2 of his 8 assists. Along with Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson were key in pulling the Warriors back to within 5 points with only 4:15 left to play, hitting some big baskets while the Nuggets looked more than ready to give up the lead entirely.
But that was as close as the Warriors got. Down the stretch a big three by Chandler and a dunk by Iguodala off an airballed jumper ended up sealing Golden State’s fate.
With the series heading back to Oakland, it remains to be seen if Denver has actually figured things out to the point that they can still pull out the series. But, even if it was just for one night, the Nuggets finally resembled the team they were from the regular season; the team that was favored to win this series.