2013 NBA Playoffs preview: The Golden State Warriors begin postseason play with an opportunity to steal a game in Denver

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors begin their playoff push today at 2:30 in Denver with an opportunity steal a game on the road.


#6 Golden State Warriors at #3 Denver Nuggets
2013 NBA Playoffs - Round 1, Game 1
2:30 p.m. PST
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
TV: ESPN
Buddy Blog: Denver Stiffs

We've already previewed the series, discussed it among ourselves and gotten insight from Nuggets fans, but to preview Game 1 I'm just going to synthesize a few main points.

A note on the discussion about pace: it should be about ball control

There has been some discussion about whether the Warriors will try to run against the Nuggets. I think the answer there has been clear: they're not going to change who they are for this series and that's perfectly fine.

As Andy Liu noted in his series preview yesterday, the Warriors are actually quite good at that whole transition offense thing and in fact tied with the Nuggets in transition efficiency at 1.17 points per play at one of the top paces in the league. And he rightly makes the following observation about how these two teams play in transition: "One team runs in transition looking to get to the basket any way possible (Nuggets) and the other runs in transition with shooters sprinting to the corner for spot-up opportunities (Warriors)."

Commentators like to talk a lot about "controlling tempo" in games and slowing down the Nuggets is an obvious talking point. But that might be the wrong question, or at least slightly misguided. Following points made by Rohan Cryuff and Tom Ziller of SB Nation in the past, pace can be an oversimplified way of looking at this series and the bigger issue might be how these teams play at a high tempo.

This is not to say pace isn't important in this series, but rather than "controlling tempo" in a game between two teams that like to run the bigger question might be whether the Warriors can control the ball at that tempo which goes back to the point of Ziller's previous article: there's good uptempo play and sloppy uptempo play. And even if the Warriors are efficient overall, they can be sloppy with the ball at times.

It's no coincidence that in their worst loss to the Nuggets this season (11 points on January 13, the last meeting between the two teams) the Warriors were killed by turnovers: they had six in the fourth quarter (before Mark Jackson emptied the bench) and a 17.2% turnover rate for the game, the highest of any of the four games. It was a pattern through the regular season series between these two teams: the Warriors lost the turnover battle in all four games.

Turnovers are just something that the Warriors will probably have to live with this series as they have all season, but they could help a Nuggets team that thrives on getting themselves buckets at the rim in transition. In addition to the differences Andy pointed out in how these two teams score on the run, the Warriors had the third worse turnover differential in the league (1.81%) while the Nuggets had the 10th best (-0.64).

Obviously, the Warriors can compete at the pace the Nuggets play - they've done it all season at a similarly fast pace. But the key will be how well the Warriors can compete at a high tempo if they're taking jumpers and turning the ball over while the Nuggets are taking the ball to the rim and not turning it over as often. A dry spell like they had on January 13 - when they had all those fourth quarter turnovers and scored just two points in the first 4.5 minutes of the final period to blow an eight point lead - could really hurt the Warriors; the Warriors cannot win this game or this series if the Nuggets outshoot them.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they should stop doing what they do well and slow the game down - they just have to make good decisions with the ball.

How much will altitude affect Game 1?

So there's been a lot of talk around here about the altitude as well and I'll just borrow what Nate Timmons of SB Nation's Denver Stiffs told us about that in yesterday's Q&A:

I've talked with many of the Nuggets players about the altitude factor and they say that they hear a lot from guys coming in for games about how it affects them. The theory is to arrive in Denver a couple days beforehand, but with the conditioning these guys are in, you usually hear that things (e.g. catching your breath) are back to normal sometime during the second quarter.

To keep this brief, the key here is simply whether the Warriors can keep this game close for that first quarter today and they did so in their two previous games in Denver: they were down by two after the first period in both their November 23 and January 13 games at the Pepsi Center. It certainly might have an influence, but it's hard to think it will have an adverse impact on the game.

How much difference will Bogut's presence & Faried's absence make in Game 1?

The far more important thing than the Nuggets' pace will almost certainly be rebounding and it helps to look at what happened in the four previous games to see that (with those turnover rates as well to illustrate the previous point).

Game GSW OReb% Den OReb% GSW Tov% Den Tov%
Nov 10 @ GSW 23.6 35.9 11.1 10.7
Nov 23 @ Den 22.2 22.9 13.7 10.2
Nov 29 @ GSW 23.1 22.7 14.9 13.7
Jan 13 @ Den 16.7 29.8 17.3 7.3

All numbers from Basketball-Reference.com.

Despite the bad taste of that last game, the Warriors showed they could compete on the boards with the Nuggets. And there are two major wrinkles for today's Game One meeting: the Warriors will have Andrew Bogut and the Nuggets might not have Kenneth Faried. And, believe it or not, Danilo Gallinari's injury also matters: he rebounded as well against the Warriors as he did against anyone in the league, averaging 7.8 in those four regular season games.

In fairness, Wilson Chandler was a better rebounder over the course of the season than Gallinari and, as Timmons also mentioned in his Q&A, both JaVale McGee and Anthony Randolph have rounded into shape as contributors that could contribute rebounding help. And starting Chandler introduces a different set of problems: whether the Warriors can keep up with the smaller, quicker Nuggets squad, something that Andy noted even before starters were announced.

But the thing to watch is whether Bogut can help the Warriors on that rebounding front, particularly with Faried not at 100% today.

Three keys to winning Game 1

The three things I'll be watching for then will probably be obvious:

  • Can the Warriors knock down the threes that the Nuggets' defense will likely give them?
  • Can the Warriors at least keep their turnovers to a minimum at this pace?
  • Can Bogut help the Warriors control the boards or at least limit second chance opportunities?

The Warriors have an opportunity to steal Game 1

Ultimately, the Warriors don't have to win Game 1 to win this series. But they do have a golden opportunity with both teams looking and playing differently than the last time they played more than three months ago - the regular season series seems like ages ago, both teams will have to feel each other out, and the Nuggets will be facing a starter they aren't that familiar with.

If the Warriors can just rebound with Faried injured/out and take care of the ball after acclimating to the altitude, they could win this game.

For more of our playoff previews, check out our 2013 NBA Playoffs section.

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