Golden State Dispatches Denver

It was anyone’s guess how Golden State would fair against Denver. The Warriors came into the playoffs with injury concerns. They were playing against the 2021 MVP, Nikola Jokic. Throughout the season the Warriors roster was never fully healthy. Klay Thompson returned to the lineup on 9 January 2022. However, his play was sporadic. He did not become a consistent fixture on the court until mid-March. Draymond Green suffered a mid-season back injury, holding him out for weeks. Then, on the cusp of the playoffs, Curry sprained a ligament. He was out for a month. Steve Kerr designated Curry the sixth man coming into the playoffs. As the playoffs loomed, the Warriors biggest stars had yet to spend meaningful time on the court with each other. Yet, this had little effect on their performance.

Golden State stormed thru the Nuggets the first two games of the season. Winning each of the first two games 123 to 107 and 126 to 106, we all began to wonder if a sweep was in order. The Nuggets made game three a nail biter but still lost by five points. They managed to win the fourth game by five points. The anticipation and intensity were palpable. The first two games Golden State played fast, loose and with exuberance. The game tightened up on the Warriors in games three and four. The playoffs are different and the younger players on the squad began to realize that. The older players had to remember how to close out a series, as Curry remarked at the end of game five.

Before game five, the normal starting lineup was Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson. Stephan Curry was the sixth man in. Steve Kerr started tinkering with things the first game of the season and by game two we all started to see the results. In game one, the youthful Jordan Poole took the series by storm scoring 30 points in 30 minutes of play. In game two, Stephen Curry came alive. He was only on the court for 23 minutes, one minute longer than game one, however he scored 34 points. With Looney in foul trouble early, Kerr had to change the lineup. Before you knew it, the Nuggets were struggling to deal with three quick shooting guards who could score from anywhere on court. The Warriors gave the Nuggets a 44-point smack down in the third quarter setting the tone for a 20-point win in the end. The keys to victory the first three games were consistent shooting from Klay, Curry and Poole. However, in game four, the Nuggets decided they were not going to let Jordan Poole beat them any longer. Jordan Wiggins stepped up to the plate with a 20-point night, but it wasn’t enough. It was time to regroup, reset and get ready to close the Nuggets out in game five.

Game five featured Stephen Curry as a starter ahead of Kavon Looney. While he played more minutes, he didn’t tire and he lead the Warriors in scoring with 30 points. However, the one key to victory in this game was the consistent and timely shooting of Gary Payton II. He played 26 minutes off the bench and scored 15 points. With Jordan Poole stifled once again, Payton’s play was vital to achieve victory. Game five was gritty. Defense seemed to dominate the game. However, that is not entirely true. The Nuggets came in with the intention of slowing the game down. In the first half, the Nuggets would drive the lane, get a bucket, and usually draw a foul. By drawing the foul, the Nuggets prevented the Warriors from scoring quick points in transition. Aaron Gordon derived all his first half 15 points off this maneuver, as did several other Nuggets. This physical style of play was meant to take a toll on the smaller Warriors. Yet, the Nuggets plan backfired. Jokic was in foul trouble early and missed much of the second half. Gordon disappeared in the 2nd half and the gritty Warriors stayed consistent and took advantage of all their opportunities. Though DeMarcus Cousins scored a personal best 19 points in the playoffs, it was not enough to make up for the absence of Jokic. Curry closed out the game with multiple drives to the basket securing the Warriors win and advancement in the playoffs.

There are several key’s to the Warriors success. First, they have a great bench. They routinely scored between 30 and 40 points in this series. This was due in large part because Curry was the sixth man. Yet, even with Curry starting in game five, the Warriors bench scored 26 points to help close out the series. Second, they have unselfish hardworking players that buy into the system. They all play for each other. Third, Steve Kerr is as innovative as they come. He is not afraid to make changes and tinker with the game plan. The players love that because they know Kerr is dedicated to winning and dedicated to putting the players in the best position to win. Next, Golden State develops their young talent well. Lastly they play stifling defense. Led by Draymond Green, the Warriors defense are not afraid of bigs or shooters. Green directs the action on the court, defends the biggest players, while the smaller quicker players scrap, guard and steal. Much is made of the lack of size on Golden State’s roster. What they lack in size they make up for in quickness, speed, heart and intestinal fortitude. They will need these keys to remain consistent if they hope to make the finals this year.

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